Four hundred people came to Hammersmith Town Hall on a cold Tuesday night (29th November) to hear about the fight against NHS proposals which will force the closure of Ealing and Charing Cross Hospitals.
Health services in the north west of London are already stretched after "Shaping a Healthier Future" (SaHF) plans (2012) resulted in the closure of Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals’ A&E departments in September 2014. Ealing lost its maternity unit in 2015 and its children's ward last June.
In June 2016 local authorities in England were being asked to sign up to Sustainability and Transformation Plans ("STPs") but Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils have refused to do so, saying that this would see the end of their hospitals as major providers of vitally needed blue-light A&Es and acute beds.
The meeting was chaired by Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Vivienne Lukey, cabinet member for health and adult social care.
In an attempt to deflect criticism and to reassure the public Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust put up a statement on their website which appeared to suggest that the future of Charing Cross hospital would be safe, but only for the next five years.
Posted on Monday (November 28), one day before the Hammersmith Town Hall meeting, it said: “We want to reassure our staff, patients, local residents and partners that Charing Cross is NOT closing and that there will be NO reduction in the Hospital’s A&E and wider services during the lifetime of the STP, which runs until April 2021.” This is not the reassurance which SOH and the public are seeking, as the population of NW London is growing (by nearly 25%) and growing older in this period.
Imperial has promoted the STP saying that it brings together and co-ordinates the priorities and plans of health and social care organisations across north west London. This is disputed by Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils. H&F points to the central financial requirement in the STP to raise funds by selling much of the sites of first Ealing and then Charing Cross Hospitals (and then demolishing them to build luxury flats) as a key part of its scheme.
Roger Steer, co-author John Lister and Sean Boyle of the Healthcare Audit’s review, argued the NHS had grown frustrated that its SaHF plans had been hampered by community opposition and that STP was “about removing the local veto”.
“It’s SaHF repackaged with no pretence about planning for local people in the long term," he said. "It will see the closure of almost 600 beds starting in Ealing and coming for Charing Cross.”
The report by Roger Steer, Dr John Lister and Sean Boyle, and other literature handed out at the meeting
Hammersmith and Fulham GP Federation chairman, Dr David Wingfield, outlined the beginning of an alternative plan, led by the community, to work with councils and hospital trusts in a closer way but based on existing structures, not the wholesale shake-up envisaged in the STP.
Ealing leader, Julian Bell, called the STP “SaHF dressed up in different clothes”. “It is clear as day Ealing and Charing Cross are in the firing line". "We are never going to sign up to that.”
Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, Stephen Cowan added: “What we are going to do is fight to save our hospitals.” He suggested patients’ views were being ignored.“We are not against reforming the NHS. There are things that need to be improved, no one disputes that,” he said.“But I believe honesty is important. If you respect people then tell them the truth. People will not stand for this, that is the reason we are going to win.”
He mentioned that a Letter before Action has been sent to the relevant NHS bodies, but refused to elaborate on its content.
In its statement on Charing Cross, the PR department of Imperial NHS Trust said the hospital “would retain a 24/7 A&E appropriate to a local hospital”. “There is a clear commitment in the STP that there will be no substantive changes to A&E in Hammersmith and Fulham until such time as any reduced acute capacity has been adequately replaced by out-of-hospital provision". “The STP, which covers the period up until April 2021, does not include the implementation of plans for Charing Cross to become a local hospital or any reduction in its capacity.”
The Save Our Hospitals campaign and the Councils are naturally unimpressed by this tepid reassurance.
The "footprint" of the NW London STP covers 8 boroughs: Hillingdon, Harrow, Hounslow, H&F, Brent, Ealing, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster, with a total population of 2 millions. Political affiliations of the Councils are split between Labour and Conservative. The STP process is in the hands of a steering committee composed of three representatives from the CCGs including Responsible Officer Clare Parker, one representative from Imperial (CEO Dr Tracey Batten) and one representative from a Local Authority (Brent CEO Carolyn Downs). The NW London Collaboration of (8) CCGs is led by Dr Tim Spicer.
Apart from Ealing and H&F, Hounslow has expressed concern at the STP proposals. At a meeting held on November 22, Hounslow Council passed unanimously a motion to reaffirm its support for acute services, including blue-light A&Es, to remain at both Ealing Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital.
A Final version of the NW London is due to be submitted to NHS England on 23rd December, and the public consultation phase will begin after this date. Save Our Hospitals does not expect any fundamental change in the direction and purpose of the final STP, even if the numbers in the finance sections change a bit.
Please write saying "Don't close my District General Hospital" to the following NW London NHS addresses:
The address for ordinary mail is: 15 Marylebone Street, London NW1 5JD.
The website for consultation is https://healthiernwlondon.commonplace.is/?utm_campaign=engagement. Just write "Don't close my District General Hospital" in the comments below any of the sections. The questions are all leading questions, which you should not answer.
The NW London Collaboration of CCGs, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS each employ teams of PR consultants to "interpret" the aims of the STP, laying particular emphasis on "Healthier" lives. Getting through this fog is a struggle, but the above are the contact addresses.