Times hospital campaign new twist

PUBLISHED: 11:24 01 July 2010 | UPDATED: 18:05 25 August 2010

Health campaigners are thrilled the axing of an Accident and Emergency unit has been blocked but blasted a future consultation because the man who came up with plans to cut services is to head the review. The coalition government has halted plans to perma

Health campaigners are thrilled the axing of an Accident and Emergency unit has been blocked but blasted a future consultation because the man who came up with plans to cut services is to head the review.

The coalition government has halted plans to permanently close the consultant-led maternity unit and A&E at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, which were proposed by the controversial quango A Picture of Health.

But the man who led the proposals as senior responsible officer of A Picture of Health, Simon Robbins, has been appointed to lead the review into the plans.

The Times has campaigned for more than three years to save the crucial services. During a lengthy Freedom of Information battle, A Picture of Health failed to provide us with any tangible evidence of clinicians' support for it, despite claiming to have 100 who backed their plans. In the end they provided us with just list of 53 invitees who they believed attended workshops about the proposals.

Pressure group London Healthcare Emergency Information Director Dr John Lister said: "It is a joke. The man is responsible for carrying out the whole thing and has shown no inclination to question the basic assumptions of any of the proposals. Simon Robbins will say that Simon Robbins was right.

"It is like getting Margaret Thatcher to review Tory policy. They are just going through the motions. Conservative Old Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire must be embarrassed that they got Robbins to head the review as Brokenshire promised a fair review. The Department of Health have passed the buck to NHS London. The Tories promised a different approach but the cash crisis has not changed so it is just the rhetoric that is changing."

Despite pre-election promises by the Conservatives to hold a moratorium on all proposed closures, the Department of Health are now refusing to answer any questions on the issue and passing on all enquiries to the strategic health authority NHS London.

This comes after NHS London backed the Healthcare for London consultation plans to reconfigure health services in the capital, focusing more on community services rather than A&Es, which helped shape the A Picture of Health plans.

Its chief Ruth Carnall confirmed news this week that Mr Robbins had been appointed in a letter to Old Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire. Mr Robbins will now have to justify proposals to Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, who has set four principles which it must adhere to.

They state that changes must be based on "sound clinical evidence" and that the Trust must liaise with GPs.

Mr Brokenshire said: "I'm aware that some people will be concerned by the fact that Simon Robbins was involved in the original process.

"I was not complimentary about A Picture of Health but let's take step by step, we have a suspension. Simon Robbins will have to make his argument for the four points set out by the Secretary of State."

Bexley councillor Sharon Massey said: "It gives us hope again. I have to say a thank you to James Brokenshire to get what the Times and me have campaigned for, for years. I don't want to get too excited. There is a little flicker of light though."

But when asked about Mr Robbins' role in the review, the Conservative remained positive, saying: "I will work with whoever is in charge. They have to meet the criteria. I have to believe we are going to get a fair hearing."

Shockingly bosses at the neighbouring hospital Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford had not been informed of the new plans, when contacted by the Times on Tuesday.

South London Healthcare Trust, which manages Queen Mary's and the Princess Royal in Bromley along with Queen Elizabeth's in Woolwich, is now crippled by over £240 million debt.

Ms Carnall stated: "In light of the very significant clinical and financial challenges faced by the local health economy in south east London, particularly South London Healthcare Trust, I shall be asking that the review be concluded as quickly as possible without, of course, short-cutting the process."

A statement from the South London Healthcare Trust said it welcomed the review.

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