Credit: Matt Brown
A packed public meeting was attended by hundreds of Hammersmith and Fulham residents this week, in support of the campaign to save Charing Cross Hospital.
“There is nothing that makes me prouder to be British than those three words: national health service”. This was the rallying call sent out by Cllr Stephen Cowan at the close of the meeting after defending his refusal to sign the North West London Sustainability and Transformation Plan. Cowan, the Leader of the Council asked the audience what type of world we want to hand on to our children, following a scathing criticism of the government’s plans to radically overhaul healthcare in the borough as part of an extensive cost-cutting programme touted to be worth in excess of £1.3bn.
Cowan asked what type of world we want to hand on to our children, following a scathing criticism of the government’s plans
Roger Steer, a member of the team involved in the critical appraisal of the STP, voiced concerns over the viability of the plan, which would see a reduction of in-patient capacity by 600 beds in a time when the population of North West London is projected to increase by 26% over the next 20 years. There was also a criticism of Imperial College Healthcare Trust’s statement claiming "there will be no reduction in the hospital’s A&E and wider services during the lifetime of the STP" as spin, given that the duration of the plan is only five years; hardly providing lasting protection for the status of the hospital. Indeed, for a plan which claims to be sustainable and transformative, there is little evidence of any consideration of the long-term ramifications of the reforms.
There was further elucidation of the exact changes that would be made to Charing Cross’ A&E services. Since Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A&Es were closed, other A&Es in London have struggled to meet the national waiting time requirements due to increased pressure on services. Again, Cllr Cowan outlined the calculated use of A&E classification to deceive the public on the fate of the services. Currently, CX has a ‘Class 1’ categorisation, which NHS England defines as a “consultant led 24-hour service with full resuscitation facilities and designated accommodation for the reception of accident and emergency patients”. The plans would see CX downgraded to a ‘Class 3’ A&E which is "nurse led and treats minor injuries". As the panel jested – if your child got their head stuck in a bucket, you’d take them to a Class 3 A&E to get some Vaseline to help slide it off. More seriously though, this draws to attention the clear deception of the public on the true extent of the changes; in a world increasingly consumed by a post-truth politics, politicians appear more concerned with masking the truth from us than engaging in a real debate about the future of our health service.
There was further elucidation of the exact changes that would be made to Charing Cross’ A&E services
Also under threat would be Charing Cross’ world-class stroke services, which would potentially be relocated to St Mary’s in an effort to create a 'superhub' capable of competing on the international stage. For campaigners from Save Our Hospitals on the panel, however, providing rapid and safe treatment for Londoners takes priority. The shift in location would see two stroke centres based within one mile of each other, potentially leaving NW London dangerously isolated. The government’s pledge that they could transport somebody from Chiswick to Paddington in under 14 minutes was laughed off by the audience. But beneath the laughter remains the much darker truth that the extent of the centralisation present in the plan could put patients in danger, especially if the population projections are accurate and acute demand in NW London continues to grow.
There was a chance for ICSM students to ask questions too. A member of BMA Imperial’s contingent quizzed the panel on the consequences for undergraduate medical training. With closures resulting in fewer hospitals to train in, students voiced concerns that there would be fewer learning opportunities due to saturation of their clinical placements with more students per consultant and the impact of this on their ongoing training.
Whether this outcry from both local residents and students at the plans will change the future of Charing Cross remains to be seen.
Stephen Nauls, medical student