Friday, 13 June 2014

Andy Slaughter MP: Health Secretary ducks and dives over hospital closures

Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, challenges Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over A&E closures in his latest political column.


Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter



Yesterday at Health Questions I asked Jeremy Hunt a fairly straightforward question about the closure of Hammersmith Hospital’s A&E department.
In response he got quite excited and started talking about Labour Party leaflets about Charing Cross Hospital and how I should not be invited to the opening of what he had planned for that site.
Slightly odd, even by House of Commons standards, but once you know the background all may become clear. The closure of Hammersmith A&E and the demolition of Charing Cross are both part of the biggest hospital closure programme in the history of the NHS, which also includes closing Central Middlesex A&E and downgrading Ealing Hospital. With the support of hundreds of thousands of west London residents I have been campaigning against this for two years.
It was unsurprisingly the biggest issue at the recent local elections when Labour made substantial gains across west London including taking control of Hammersmith & Fulham , Cameron’s ‘favourite council’. I can see why the Tories are sore about this, and they are certainly bad losers, but here are three things you would not glean from Hunt’s intemperate performance.
He refused to deal with the immediate crisis, the subject of my question, the closure of Hammersmith’s A&E. This was – cynically - announced the day after the local elections for 10 September. But at the same time Imperial Healthcare Trust admitted there would not be capacity at St Mary’s Paddington to take the 22,000 patients who attend Hammersmith annually.
They have to go to St Mary’s because Central Middlesex A&E will close the same day and Charing Cross is scheduled for closure within two years. But Hunt promised no closure would take effect until there was adequate capacity in the system. Not only is St Mary’s overcrowded but the primary care sector, which is also supposed to deflect patients from A&E is being cut and monies transferred from H&F to outer London. Dan Poulter, Hunt’s Health Minster, looked blank when I asked him about this, but NHS England confirmed the cuts in a recent meeting.
So I wasn’t surprised Hunt ducked answering on his own broken promise, but did raise an eyebrow when he accused me of bad faith. In fact he himself has been indulging in a little elasticity with the truth as Mike Gapes revealed in the NHS debate on Monday.
But this pales alongside Cameron’s visit to Hammersmith a week before the elections, when he promised ‘Charing Cross will retain its A&E and services’. This wholly false statement was published in the local papers and distributed across the constituency, as I explained in the Commons on Monday. In response I wrote to Cameron setting out the agreed (at least by the NHS) position with Charing Cross. I have had no reply.
Charing Cross Hospital, Hunt confirmed last October, will be demolished and at least half its site sold. All consultant emergency services will go including around 400 acute beds, the A&E, intensive care, and the country’s best stroke unit. What remains will be a combination of primary care, treatment and elective surgery. The ‘A&E’ will be a GP-led walk in centre. In my view to call something like this an A&E, for face-saving political reasons, is more than irresponsible it is dangerous.
The only person to leap to Hunt’s defence was Chelsea & Fulham MP Greg Hands. There is an irony here. Hands won his seat on the back of a manufactured campaign that Charing Cross was under threat in 2005, it was not as subsequent events proved. Only when the Tories took power did the opportunity to close one of London’s major teaching hospitals and replace it with a local hospital with no consultant emergency services take off. Tory love of real estate, the funding crisis in the NHS and the callous disregard of communities in west London have provoked the current crisis and Hunt and Hands are reaping the public response.

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