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Disappointment at the end of A&E battle

PUBLISHED: 10:51 14 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:41 25 August 2010

HEADLINES: How the Times related our fight on behalf of our readers to save the A&E.

HEADLINES: How the Times related our fight on behalf of our readers to save the A&E.

CAMPAIGNERS are bitterly disappointed after it was announced that their hospital A&E is to be axed within two years.

CAMPAIGNERS are 'bitterly disappointed' after it was announced that their hospital A&E is to be axed within two years.

Two years after the Kentish Times launched a campaign to save vital services at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup (QMS), the cost-cutting plans were approved by the Health Secretary last Friday.

Under proposals by A Picture of Health (APoH) to centralise south-east London hospital care, QMS will lose its A&E and paediatric units as well as its doctor-led maternity cover.

Under the changes due to be implemented over the next two years, QMS will become an elective surgery site as emergency services are moved to hospitals in Woolwich, Bromley and Dartford.

Sharon Massey, Bexley councillor for health, said: "It's really disappointing and I'm gutted after all the years of work we've put in to save our hospitals' services.

"Bexley residents were not listened to during the consultation and now I feel let down by the Minister's decision.

"We did everything we could and it's disappointing but that's life and we would do it all again.

"I want to say thank you to the Times for campaigning tirelessly for the people of this borough.

"I hope it will continue to campaign for residents. This did matter and people did care that their local paper listened to them."

London Health Emergency Head of Campaigns, Geoff Martin, said: "It is completely outrageous and flies in the face of public opinion. It has ridden roughshod over local people who depend on emergency services at QMS.

"This will have devastating consequences not just for the people of Bromley and Bexley but for everyone in south-east London. It will have a knock-on effect on everybody.

"It is important not to give up now. We have to keep going. As long as we have services at QMS we will fight to keep them."

Government approval came despite thousands of readers joining a Times petition which was taken to Downing Street and after hundreds joined a protest in Sidcup on March 1 last year.

Following heavy criticism over a consultation by APoH, a complaint was lodged by Bexley council calling for a review of the decision to be referred to the Health Secretary.

But after two months of scrutinising the plans, an Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) gave it the green light.

A report by the IRP read: "Emergency care services should close at QMS. Continuing to provide emergency care services across four sites is not sustainable, nor safe in the long-term. Concentrating services on three sites will enable care to be provided by the most senior clinicians with the most appropriate skills."

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "It is disappointing that views of thousands of local people have not been listened to on this occasion.

"I believe it is vital that everybody in London has access to quality health services and careful consideration should be given to any major decisions which could impact on people in Bexley for years to come."

Derek Conway, independent MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, said there was "no surprise, just disappointment".

He added: "NHS London run the show. MPs can whine from the sidelines but at the end of the day they have the power. The rest is just to keep the public quiet.

"The clinicians like the idea of centralising and there's nothing wrong with centres of excellence.

"But 'community hospitals' full of GPs are not the same as a hospital with an A&E and I suspect that neighbouring hospitals won't have the capacity to cope."

MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, David Evennett said: "The Health Secretary has totally disregarded the views of local people. I remain concerned about the provision of health services for the people of Bexley. I thought he would listen to local opinion. All community groups have been ignored."

However, plans to close QMS's midwife-led maternity unit were dismissed by the IRP.

Mary Broadhurst MBE, Bexley's Director of Midwifery between 1973 and 1993, said: "The inclusion of a midwife-led unit is incredibly valuable.

"But it has not made up for things. Although I am pleased that there will be a midwife-led unit, I'm still anxious that it is a considerable distance from a consultant unit.

"It is very rare that there is a problem during child birth, but if there is a problem, the nearest consultants will be based over in Dartford or Woolwich."

Mrs Broadhurst, 72, a former nurse and midwife said that having seen Queen Mary's Maternity Unit built in 1967 after much campaigning, the decision is "a step backwards".

She added: "The women of Bexley have been sorely let down by these plans."

On April 1 this year, a new South London Healthcare NHS Trust was formed merging Bromley Hospitals, QMS and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals.

The merge was officially separate from the centralising programme, but NHS chiefs admitted it will make it a lot easier.

It is now officially the most indebted Trust in the UK.

The centralisation of services is estimated to save the Trust between £25 and £30 million per year. At a press conference last Friday at the Waldron Health Centre, Deptford, representatives for APoH claimed the Sidcup site was chosen for elective care only because it had the best location for the population.

However, the IRP recommended that plans to improve transport links and secure more ambulances for the area should be put in place before the closure of QMS A&E.

It also said staffing requirements need to be reviewed and that "financial viability of the proposals be reassessed".

GP-led community hospitals including the Beckenham Beacon and Eltham Community Hospital, are an essential part of the APoH mission to 'bring services closer to patients', according to APoH.

A spokesperson for APoH said that no dates or figures were available to explain the number of beds and units due to be moved, nor as to staffing changes.

jules.cooper@archant.co.uk

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