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Lewisham Hospital reprieve: what it means for Bexley and Bromley

PUBLISHED: 09:48 06 August 2013 | UPDATED: 09:48 06 August 2013

Victorious Lewisham Hospital demonstrators outside the High Court. Pic by Stefan Rosseau/PA

Victorious Lewisham Hospital demonstrators outside the High Court. Pic by Stefan Rosseau/PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Last week the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital's A&E and maternity services was ruled unlawful by a High Court judge.

Campaign group Save Lewisham Hospital and Lewisham Council were both successful in their action against the government, with Judge Mr Justice Silber quashing health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans.

The legal arguments were centred around whether Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw, appointed to sort out the financially-stricken South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT), was acting legally in including Lewisham Hospital in his re-configuration of health services in south-east London.

Many residents and health workers were alarmed when he first announced that financially-sound Lewisham would be downgraded as a result of problems at a neighbouring trust which it had nothing to do with. It seemed unjust and shook people all over the country who realised no matter how safe their hospital seemed, it could become a target.

There was national jubilation when Mr Justice Silber decreed last Wednesday (July 31) that Mr Kershaw, and subsequently Mr Hunt, had acted outside their powers.

But what does this mean for the future of healthcare in south-east London?

Some health commentators were hoping the judge would go further, taking into account all of Mr Kershaw’s proposals which include marrying King’s College Hospital in Camberwell with the Princess Royal in Farnborough and bringing Queen Mary’s in Sidcup under the control of Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust managing its buildings.

John Lister, chairman of London Health Emergency, said: “The changes could be potentially disastrous for south-east London health. I don’t think any part of the plan is clinically sound.

“I’ve always tried to emphasise that this plan is a blow for the whole of south-east London health, and SLHT has been a millstone since it was formed.”

As it stands, the office of the Trust Special Administrator has confirmed the remainder of the changes will go ahead on October 1.

But Julie Mott, a health campaigner from Petts Wood, is concerned cuts could be made elsewhere to local health services – and fears the Princess Royal could be in the firing line.

“Both the Princess Royal and King’s are acute trusts. In the future this will be an easy place for them to make cutbacks if the department (of health) believe they can cope with one A&E at the two hospitals.

“People want A&Es on their doorsteps, especially for places with elderly populations like Bexley and Bromley. It would be disastrous for the residents.”

Mrs Mott also thinks Lewisham’s success, irrespective of the possibility of a possible appeal by the Department of Health’s, could just be a stay of execution if they want to cut services.

“The whole process has been about saving money. It’s not about improving services and I fear Bexley residents especially are going to suffer – I don’t know why Darent Valley Hospital, part of an acute trust, would want to take over a health campus?”

Bexley GP Bob Gill, who supported the Lewisham Hospital campaign, was delighted with what the decision will mean for local people in the short-term.

He said: “It’s great Lewisham Hospital has been saved. Downgrading would have had a dramatic effect on the people of Bexley and Bromley.

“I’m getting a lot of patients sent to me from hospitals because they’re not getting assessed properly, and changes to Lewisham would have exacerbated the situation.”

One of Mr Hunt’s key arguments for downgrading was that it would save 100 lives a year – a figure Mr Lister claims was spurious from the outset.

The campaigner said: “There’s no financial solution to the problems faced by SLHT. That’s why the administrator went wider than the trust in the first place, and I’m not sure how they think 100 lives a year would be saved locally.

“Saving money rarely means better services and I fear this is only a temporary reprieve.”

Mr Hunt has been given the right to appeal by Mr Justice Silber, a decision he has yet to make.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Of course we are disappointed by this decision. We need to consider the judgment carefully, and have obtained permission to appeal.

“We expect to continue other elements of that package of changes, including the dissolution of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, planned for October 1.”

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