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"The oldest trick in the book"

PUBLISHED: 13:17 30 September 2010 | UPDATED: 14:05 30 September 2010

John Lister

John Lister

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HEALTH POLICY EXPERT DR JOHN LISTER GIVES HIS VIEW ON THE PREMATURE CLOSURES OF THE A&E AND MATERNITY UNIT AT QUEEN MARY'S HOSPITAL IN SIDCUP

HEALTH POLICY EXPERT DR JOHN LISTER GIVES HIS VIEW ON THE PREMATURE CLOSURES OF THE A&E AND MATERNITY UNIT AT QUEEN MARY’S HOSPITAL IN SIDCUP

For NHS managers, it’s the oldest trick in the book.

Publicise the fact that you are determined to close a hospital’s key services and reduce it to little more than a glorified clinic – and just wait for the vacancy levels to rise until you can claim that the services can no longer be delivered safely because of “staff shortages”.

Nobody who has seen this process acted out at one hospital after another could be in the least bit surprised when the management of South London Healthcare NHS Trust announced the “temporary” closure of its emergency and maternity departments last week.

Nor – despite the cynical use of the word “temporary” – will they believe for one moment that the closure will be anything other than permanent: it is, after all exactly what health bosses in South East London have been trying to do for over three years.

In fact the whole idea of lashing together three NHS Trusts in varying degrees of financial distress into a single big, crisis-ridden, South London Healthcare Trust last year, was to make it easier to cut back services at Queen Mary’s, in order to help ease the £99 million deficits built up by new Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospitals in Bromley and Greenwich.

The merger nobody wanted came after all of the attempts to get the people of south-east London endorsing the cuts – through the ridiculous ‘A Picture of Health’ consultation charade – had failed abysmally.

Almost nobody could be persuaded to endorse the rationalisation of hospital care.

Every aspect of that consultation was a fraud, including the confusing use of the term “care closer to home” to cover plans that would close the services closest to home for 60 percent of Bexley residents and many in Bromley.

The consultation report was forced to seek positives despite minuscule levels of support for the proposals: so it ignored the vast majority who were opposed, and desperately argued the significance of the fact that “three percent” supported the idea that “services should be based locally/closer to home” and moving “resources out of hospitals into the community”.

The fraud continued with the bogus claim, exposed by the Kentish Times, that 100 clinicians within the Trust backed the changes.

And nowhere have health bosses been prepared to face the hard figures that show the closure of Queen Mary’s will bring a massive 40 percent increase in emergency admissions at Queen Elizabeth’s, and 17 percent more at Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough – but no extra resources to enable them to cope.

It’s a closure implemented without scruple, without evidence, without resources and with no public support.

It exposes the wider fraud of Andrew Lansley’s spurious “moratorium” on closures of A&E and maternity units, and opens the doors for further cuts at Queen Mary’s and across south-east London as a brutal £20 billion spending squeeze hits the NHS.

There’s only one alternative: the splendid Times campaign to defend local health care must continue, and more local people must add their voice, to force a change of line.

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