Tuesday October 30, no rx 2012
A multi-million pound consultation on the future of healthcare in north west London could lead to the closure of one of the capital’s most world renowned hospitals says a local council.
Instead of spending £7 million on its Shaping a Healthier Future consultation, click NHS North West London (NHS NWL) should have ploughed the money into securing the future of Charing Cross Hospital – which is now threatened with closure, help claims Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council.
The sky-high consultation costs, which were discovered through a Freedom of Information response, include £3m in fees to management consultancy firm McKinsey – ironically to work out the financial case for the closures – and £650,000 to public relations firm The London Communications Agency.
The NHS NWL consultation on proposals to close four out of nine A&E units in the area has again stirred up fears that, if Charing Cross’ A&E is closed, it would signal the death knell for the entire hospital.
An independent review found the NHS plans to be ‘fundamentally flawed’ and the council is warning that if Charing Cross A&E is shut parts of the building will be sold off piecemeal eventually leading to the closure of the whole hospital.
NHS bosses have admitted that the Charing Cross site has been valued at £80million but that this cautious estimate would be likely to ‘run into hundreds of millions.’
Councillor Marcus Ginn, cabinet member for community care, says: “Instead of wasting huge amounts of taxpayers’ cash on management consultants and spin doctors the NHS should have spent the money keeping front-line services going. I could have told them for free that H&F residents want Charing Cross to remain a major hospital and the money could have kept the casualty unit open for a whole year!
“This consultation is not only flawed but is primarily designed to help Imperial sell off their most expensive asset – Charing Cross Hospital. We all know the huge value of the land and that once a hospital loses its A&E it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens and the whole hospital shuts down permanently.”
H&F Council has been warning for years that Charing Cross is being systematically downgraded. In December 2010 the vascular surgery ward at Charing Cross was closed, apparently because of a severe infection outbreak. All vascular surgery was moved to St Mary’s where it remains, apparently permanently. There was no public consultation on the move and no clinical evidence presented to support the permanent move.
In 2009 Charing Cross was overlooked as the major trauma centre for the area and all six of Charing Cross’ world famous neurosurgeons were forced to provide an on call service at both St Mary’s, in Paddington, and Charing Cross without consultation.
Cllr Ginn says: “We need to keep fighting against the proposals and keep up the pressure on NHS NWL so that they see what they are doing is not only unsafe for local people but is also ultimately wrong. We need to protect our local hospital.”
The consultation asked residents in Brent, Ealing, H&F, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster to choose from several options – each of which involved closing local services – yet never offered them the opportunity to say ‘no’ to the proposals.
As one of only two London boroughs set to lose all of its A&Es – the other borough is Ealing – local people will have to travel much further and longer for emergency services, and the council says that decisions are being made with no guarantee that alternative community services will be able to cope.
The council’s official response to the Shaping a Healthier Future consultation states: “The council considers that there are several key flaws in the proposals. The proposals are consequently seen as unsafe from the council’s perspective.”
It says the proposals fail on three of the four key tests for all health reforms and would put people’s lives at risk:
- There are fundamental problems with the consultation process
- The proposals are not based on adequate clinical evidence; and
- There is a lack of due regard for the impact on the people who live and work in Hammersmith & Fulham.
At a public meeting in September at Hammersmith Town Hall hundreds of people heard that GPs are not ready to take up the strain of A&E closures, ambulance journey times to overstretched out-of-borough A&Es will increase and, if four out of the nine A&Es close (at Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Middlesex and Ealing hospitals), a population equivalent to the size of Sheffield will be left without a single local A&E. The council’s response to the consultation also echoed these concerns.
The Shaping a Healthier Future consultation ended on October 8 and a cross-party, joint Save Our Hospitals campaign led by H&F Council and community organisers collected more than 22,000 signatures calling for Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals to be saved from the axe. A decision on the future of the hospitals will be made early next year (2013).