The public packed into Hammersmith Town Hall on Tuesday evening to discuss the findings and ramifications of the Independent Healthcare Commission's report. They heard proposals to challenge the vague and uncosted NHS plans to cut A&Es and acute hospitals in NW London. This meeting was the follow-up to the publication of the Mansfield Commission's findings on 2nd December 2015.
Members of the crowd show their support for Charing Cross Hospitals and junior doctors
Oscar-winner and stage legend Vanessa Redgrave called a judicial review into the NHS plans “vital” and said the battle could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
The plans from NHS NW London, called "Shaping a Healthier Future" (SaHF) published in 2012, apparently aims to provide a better, more joined-up health and social care across North West London.
But it has resulted in the closure of the maternity ward at Ealing Hospital in July 2015, with the paediatrics unit shutting this year. SaHF has have also seen the A&Es at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals close in Sept 2014.
An A&E 'in name only'
The meeting, held in the packed out Small Hall, was chaired by H&F’s head of health Vivienne Luckey. On the panel joining her and Cllr Cowan were report commissioners Dr Stephen Hirst and Dr John Lister, and Save Our Hospitals chairman Patrick Barron.
The Independent Healthcare Report was commissioned in 2015 by H&F, Ealing, Hounslow, Harrow and Brent Councils and chaired by Michael Mansfield QC. When published in December it called SaHF “deeply flawed” and said closures must be reversed. It also recommended legal action to stop the plans if necessary (see article below of 4th December 2015 for list of findings and recommendations).
Actress Vanessa Redgrave spoke at the meeting, and is seen here with her son Carlo Nero, a screenwriter and film director and former chairman of the Save our Hospitals campaign
Cllr Cowan said NHS plans would see large chunks of the hospital in Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith closed, with a replacement medical facility just 13% of its size.
He said an A&E, which the NHS has insisted will remain at the hospital, will be in name only and actually be an Urgent Care Clinic.
He spoke of the escalating costs of SaHF , and told a cheering crowd, numbering around 140 and including Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter, that he had met with a QC to discuss taking legal measures.
He branded Jeremy Hunt “possibly the worst public health secretary in my lifetime” and warned: “We will do everything we can to save our hospital, and if that means taking our government to court that is exactly what we will do.
“We will sue them and we will JR (judicial review) them. There’s nothing we won’t do to save our hospital.”
Dr Hirst warned of the tactic of “hollowing out” where institutions are told they could be closed, leading to fewer people applying to work there and standards dropping. “In this way you are precipitating the closure,” he said. It is like "planning blight".
Dr Lister said the NHS had failed to provide a business plan despite several requests, and the closure of units without adequate replacement had placed huge pressure on other hospitals, as recent figures for the performance of the remaining A&Es attest.
Both disputed NHS claims the changes were “clinically led”, which was backed by a junior doctor who believed “the majority of GPs are wholeheartedly opposed to it”.
Dr Stephen Hirst addresses the meeting on the future of Charing Cross Hsopital. On the panel are (l-r) Patrick Barron, chairman of the Save Our Hospitals , council leader Stephen Cowan, H&F head of health Vivienne Luckey and report commissioner Dr John Lister
Tories 'not the bad guys'
Attending the meeting was opposition spokesman for health Andrew Brown . He said the commission’s report raised important and valid points, and there was huge respect for the campaign to protect health services. But he felt the Labour group was wrong to paint the Conservatives as the bad guys.
He said: “While many individuals and the vast majority are here on an apolitical basis to protect our hospital, there is clearly an undercurrent behind the behaviour of the leadership. The focus of their opposition is the government when really the decision makers in this process is the NHS.
And rightly so, I would rather that the future decisions are taken by the NHS in corroboration with the public.
“Cllr Cowan has said that there is nothing he wouldn’t do to defend Charing Cross but not once has he come to us to work with us to try to influence the NHS.”