Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Is our health service on life support?

At last I managed to reconvene the meeting between the west London MPs and the people who run the NHS in north-west London.  We originally met almost a year ago, along with the health minister, to try and establish better relations after the General Election.

I’m afraid the promises of more dialogue and openness have not come to pass since, but we did at least get an update on the plans for our hospitals.  Nine Labour MPs from Harrow, Hounslow, Ealing, Brent, Westminster and me from H&F met the senior managers responsible for the ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ project.

This is what we learnt.

The financial crisis is dire.  All the west London hospital trusts are in huge debt – Imperial’s is running at over £50 million this year - as are most around the country.  One solution is to use £1 billion of the £3.6 billion national capital budget this year and next to cover part of the deficit in day to day spending. 

This is obviously no long-term solution but it also makes it less likely that there will be money for the major changes to west London hospitals. SaHF is asking the Government for between £800 million and £1 billion on its own – mainly for changes to the Charing Cross and St Mary’s sites.

You could see this as good news – it makes it less likely that the money will be there to demolish Charing Cross and build the new primary care services on the site.  But the nightmare scenario – one of four options now being considered – is to leave the existing buildings but close or move the emergency and acute services anyway and try to run the reduced services from partly-mothballed unsuitable premises.

It is clearer by the day that the proposals are driven by the financial crisis in the health service.  Last week Imperial was named as one of 16 Trusts to be offered emergency help with its financial management.

We will know more about the future of Charing Cross and the other hospitals when the ‘Implementation Business Case’ is published.  But this has been pushed back to September at the earliest.  This means we have not had an update on the plans for three and a half years – evidence in itself of how flaky they are, in my opinion.  

Meanwhile, all the proposals for downsizing seem to go on in a vacuum, with the NHS unable to cope with current demand let alone the aging and growing population.   A&E waiting times are the worst ever – only two thirds of people have been seen within four hours at Charing Cross and St Mary’s in the past few months. Ambulances are queuing outside hospitals again.  Constituents report waiting rooms are full with patients standing and staff rushed off their feet. And yet the plans to cut 500 acute beds are still being implemented. 

Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith

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