As NHS funding flatlines for the third year in a row, A&E departments and maternity services across the country are threatened with closure.
As well as looming battles in North West London over A&E services, St Helier in South East London, the Alex Hospital and Worcester Royal in the Midlands, and Prince Phillip Hospital in Llannelli, are all being considered for closure this month. If the government gets its way then we will have one third fewer A&E departments than we had at the last election.
The closure of A&E departments and maternity services is usually the first step in shutting down a hospital.
NHS bosses claim the closures are necessary as they try to create a multi tiered A&E service with some hospitals offering urgent care centres for minor injuries. The idea is that patients should self assess to decide whether they need a GP, an urgent care centre or the full-blown A&E service. In fact this is a scheme to allow relatively low risk emergency treatment to be hived off to the private sector. Care UK has already got the urgent care centre contracts for Ealing and Brent and will see these cuts as a business opportunity.
NHS bosses in North West London have launched a 14 week consultation over proposals to close four of the nine accident and emergency units in the region, serving 1.9 million people. The proposals are part of a reorganisation programme called “Shaping a Healthier Future” championed by Anne Rainsbury, chief exec of NHS NW London and Tory GP Mark Spencer, the NW London medical director.
NHS NW London is suffering financially because of extortionate PFI payments and a continued programme of cuts. It has been told to save £1 billion over the next three years. The units marked for closure are at Hammersmith, Charing Cross, Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals, and a knock on effect would be to downgrade these hospitals, turning them into local hospitals with limited services.
Charing Cross and Hammersmith have a combined turn over of 100,000 patients a year with 20,000 emergency admissions. It is inconceivable that these numbers can be accommodated in alternative units, which are themselves already overstretched.
Campaigners and residents are being bombarded with threats that if the closures are not accepted then hospitals will go bankrupt. We are told we have no choice but to accept cuts and closures that will cost lives. But the campaign against these proposals is continuing, involving local groups such as Ealing Hospital SOS and Brent NHS Patients Campaign. A public meeting in June brought campaigners together and more meetings are planned.
Spencer has already said that he will not be swayed by petitions or political objections. Workers and community campaigners should take this threat seriously and prepare for direct action.
Fight ward closures
St. Helier Hospital in Sutton is one of several hospitals in London being threatened by ward closures.
The “Better Services, Better Value” panel concluded that the hospital’s A&E, Maternity and Pediatrics wards should be closed.
Bizarrely the proposed closures come whilst the hospital is part way through a major £219m renovation project.
Hundreds of local residents attended a meeting in defence of the hospital organised by Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh. Labour movement activists, health workers and residents need to organise action to defend the hospital.
This includes voicing opposition at the 26 July NHS south West London board meeting, which will finalise the recommendation ahead of a consultation period.