There has been rejoicing and relief among campaigners after last week’s surprise announcement in parliament that the planned closure of the A&E departments at both Charing Cross and Ealing hospitals would not now happen. Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who commissioned a public inquiry led by Michael Mansfield QC and fought against the plans alongside Ealing Council and the Save Our Hospitals campaign, said: “This is a huge validation of Michael Mansfield QC’s findings and a huge victory for the Save Our Hospitals campaign. Thank you to all the residents who worked with us to save Charing Cross Hospital.”
Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central & Acton told The Chiswick Calendar: “For seven long years the threat of closure loomed over both Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals. Staff have left because of the increase in job insecurity and locals have largely been left in the dark. Ealing Hospital has provided vital services of unparalleled quality for my constituents, including me and my family since it began in 1979. Although I am of course delighted that Ealing Hospital is no longer earmarked for closure, I am appalled at the slapdash attitude the government has taken to spending tax payers’ money. A rumoured £43m has been wasted on this scheme which called “shaping a healthier future” when it was really “shafting a healthier future”.
What was supposed to happen
“Shaping a Healthier Future” was ‘a project of unprecedented size and scope’ said Michael Mansfield’s report, ‘aimed at achieving a root and branch reconfiguration of all health services across eight diverse, densely populated London boroughs’. What was proposed was to reduce nine hospitals across eight boroughs to five. At the Hammersmith site the plan was to demolish most of Charing Cross Hospital and replace its A&E with an urgent care clinic, leaving just 13 per cent the size of the original hospital. The remaining 87% was to be sold for housing development. In Ealing the hospital would also have lost its A&E department. The Maternity and Paediatric wards there have already closed.
The rationale of ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ was that ‘North West London has a growing and ageing population … specialist care is … thinly spread over too many sites and some facilities are inadequate’. The idea was to centralise services to improve efficiency, providing fewer physical A&E locations, but expanding services at the ones that remained.
Michael Mansfield’s Independent Commission findings
The findings of the Independent Commission led by Michael Mansfield QC were that the plans were ‘deeply flawed’. He wrote: ‘As a consequence there is no realistic prospect of achieving good quality accessible healthcare for all’. The report concluded:
- There is no completed, up-to-date business plan in place that sets out the case for delivering the Shaping a Healthier Future programme, demonstrating that the programme is affordable and deliverable.
- There was limited and inadequate public consultation on the SaHF proposals and those proposals themselves did not provide an accurate view of the costs and risks to the people affected.
- The escalating cost of the programme does not represent value for money and is a waste of precious public resources.
- NHS facilities, delivering important public healthcare services, have been closed without adequate alternative provision being put in place.
- The original business case seriously underestimated the increasing size of the population in North West London and fails to address the increasing need for services.
Reaction to the decision
Save our Hospitals, a resident-led group campaigning against the closures at Charing Cross announced ‘We’ve Won’ on their blog and added: ‘it’s not been easy taking on well-funded … spin doctors … [and] management consultants … but … after a seven year fight we’ve stopped a closure plan that was downright dangerous’. The campaign has continuously organised petitions, held meetings to quiz the NHS bureaucrats behind the plans, held demonstrations, fundraising events and meetings and distributed flyers and posters to bring attention to the cause.
Ealing Council leader Julian Bell announced he was ‘delighted’, noting the ‘overwhelming opposition’ to the plan locally. Eve Turner, a campaigner from Ealing Save Our NHS said: “after seven years and millions of pounds … they have finally accepted the emperor has no clothes”. She called for the Maternity and Paediatric services at Ealing Hospital to be restored and for the NHS to “give Ealing Hospital the money it needs”.
Warnings on what will replace ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’
Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust, which runs Charing Cross, told the Guardian newspaper that Shaping a Healthier Future “has delivered significant benefits”. But it warned that NHS chiefs in the eight boroughs will still have to push through “significant change, involving some difficult decisions and trade-offs, if we are to offer high-quality, person-centred care sustainably”.
Save Our Hospitals cautioned that ‘there are still huge problems’ including ‘understaffing’ and ‘the threat of privatisation’, but for how they said, they just wanted to take time to “celebrate a victory won by lots of different people”.