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Times campaign on the verge of VICTORY?

PUBLISHED: 17:08 27 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 25 August 2010

NO FORCED CLOSURE’: MP James Brokenshire.

NO FORCED CLOSURE': MP James Brokenshire.

HOSPITAL chiefs claim they are pressing forward with plans to close vital A&E and maternity units despite Conservative MPs promising the Times campaign they would be stopped.

HOSPITAL chiefs claim they are pressing forward with plans to close vital A&E and maternity units despite Conservative MPs promising the Times' campaign they would be stopped.

The Times has battled since 2007 to prevent axing 999 services at Queen Mary's Hospital (QMS), Sidcup and in recent days it looked as if the hospital's fate had been saved at the 11th hour.

Tories told the Times they would honour promises to save QMS' consultant-led maternity and A&E care and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised he would "put an end to the imposition of top-down reconfigurations in the NHS."

However, the Department of Health (DoH) is now silent on whether pre-election pledges will stick and South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) bosses allege they have not been told to stop the cuts set out in A Picture of Health (APoH) consultation.

SLHT chief operating officer Lyn (cor) Simpson told a Trust board meeting yesterday at the QEH: "We met with NHS London and with commissioners to seek their views.

"We have been advised and are convinced that it is right to continue with the delivery of the plans. We will continue at a pace to deliver this by March. It is all systems go for us.

"Engagement with general practise will be reinforced and we will be sharing our process with GPs and asking for their feedback.

"One of the key dates is to close the A&E at QMS on September 30 and transfer all that work to QEH and the PRUH. Everything is teed up to make that happen.

"All of that is in place to happen and as we move forward to September we will see these changes take place."

This comes after MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup James Brokenshire said he could absolutely confirm there would be "no forced closure."

But on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the DoH said: "It doesn't matter what promises came from the Conservatives. There are other people who are in the ministerial team. It is a coalition government. Decisions will be made on a collective basis. It is too early to comment on individual hospitals."

Mr Brokenshire said: "Hospital trust bosses may want to believe that there will be no change to their plans but this is completely speculative on their part. All current proposals have to be reviewed by the DoH and detailed steps for considering changes in the London area have not even been finalised. I will be making this point very firmly to ministers to ensure that national policy is adhered to in respect of QMS."

Geoff Martin from London Health Emergency, which campaigns against the capital's hospital cuts, said: "Beware - Andrew Lansley has a caveat with everything he does. All he needs to do is get some medical director he has employed to say he supports the cuts.

"Unless we slam the brakes on QMS closing now then they will say it is too late. NHS London has been told to halt all reorganisation so I don't understand why SLHT is still going ahead.

"It would be political dynamite if south London was being ring-fenced from the rest of the city. We need it written in blood that it won't close."

Kentish Times series group editor Melody Foreman said: "The Times campaign has always questioned the truth of APoH claims which repeatedly alleged that 100 clinicians supported plans to axe QMS' services.

"A year-long Freedom of Information Times battle resulted in APoH being ordered to release the names of these clinicians but they could only produce a list of 53 invitees who they believed attended the 'workstreams' where they supposedly backed the proposals.

"Of those, just seven were from QMS and one who the Times contacted before the Trust told their staff not to speak to us, said he was totally against the cuts.

"We revealed last June how APoH provided no evidence of what the clinicians said, no full record of invitees and no minutes of any meetings.

"Surely the brutal proposals of the previous government to axe these vital services will be scrapped, proving the opinions of local people do have some power after all.

"This latest development has provided all those many, many campaigners with a last hope of success."

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