The tangled web spun by a health board in defiance of Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation has big implications for secrecy in the NHS. And it’s rare for the public’s suspicions to be confirmed.

From untrue statements to behind-the-scenes ploys, this FoI was still refused. Over what? A request for its chronic pain clinic waiting times.

That the Scottish Information Commissioner has found Dumfries and Galloway Health Board guilty on two counts of breaching the FoI Scotland Act is, parliamentarians say, only the start of what should be a wider investigation.

FoI officials uncovered dozens of emails and some 27 different officials having their time wasted over one simple request answered by Scotland’s 13 other boards without problems.

This board had no reason to cover up its records; its pain patients were seen on time. Its actions show determination to trounce transparency for patients and uphold a prior establishment decision not to produce any Scottish figures. Its chief executive, Jeff Ace (salary band £95,000-£100,000 in 2014/15), must explain why he told me by letter: “This information is not held by Dumfries and Galloway Health Board.”

The Commissioner found: “There is no doubt that NHS Dumfries and Galloway held information covered by the request at the time.”

Scottish FoI needs much more protection. In November, 2015 I lodged an FoI for waiting times figures for chronic pain patients at 14 health boards. I was asked to do so by MSPs, patients and doctors on the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on chronic pain (I’m honorary secretary). The group was enraged that patients had been refused essential data by three bodies with the figures: the Scottish Government, the Information Services Division (ISD) handling Scottish health statistics and the Government's ministerial steering group on chronic pain, then chaired by Maureen Watt MSP.

I had no idea that NHS Dumfries and Galloway would contact a few representatives of these three bodies once my FOI reached that board. Even our only hope, FoI, was endangered, causing much voluntary work to fight back. An email trail revealed under FoI shows repeated contacts between the ISD and Dr Mary Harper, a Dumfries and Galloway official then on the ministerial steering group. I knew nothing of these dealings at the time.

On December 15, 2015, Dr Harper emailed four NHS Dumfries and Galloway officials saying:

“I’ve just contacted SG [Scottish Government] to ask their advice re passing WT [Waiting Times] info to CPG [cross-party group] as we’re asked to restrict circulation as 'for management purposes only'. As soon as I get a response will let you know.”

The Government's response is not in the email trail but the blocking continued.

Later, ISD officials contacted Dr Harper time and again, updating her on, for instance, “taking over the FoI from Dumfries and Galloway”. In my view, as the “guardians of all Scotland’s health statistics”, the ISD should not have touched a request from a board that was defying an FoI.

The email trail shows that, while the board’s first refusal on January 6 from its FoI official Rachel Hinchcliffe claimed figures were exempt as they were already in the public domain (wrong, as the Commissioner confirmed), it had been involved with the ISD during December in pursuit of a different endgame: getting the ISD to hand the information over. Such tactics cause huge delay and stress to any pursuer. No pain patient could cope.

A blizzard of more than 50 emails involving 27 different officials in this health board and the ISD over this small request seems laughable: a “Carry on Health Chaos” demented farce.

So does the paper-shuffling exercise such as the ISD agreeing to send to the cross-party group figures originally compiled by Dumfries and Galloway staff. These had been originally sent to the ISD by the health board; figures it still held. Data went full circle; rather, fool circle.

But pain patients must know how long it’ll take to reach specialist NHS clinics, which can save lives if there is a suicide risk if pain levels are at their worst. Conditions for sufferers range from cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia to Crohn’s and Parkinson’s.

These are the kind of patients this board let down.

The journalist Dorothy-Grace Elder is a former MSP who is honorary secretary of the cross-party group on chronic pain.