An independent commission, chaired by leading barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, is being set up by four local councils in north west London, who have been deeply concerned by deteriorating local hospital services.
The closures of hospital A&E services in west London have been followed by lengthening waiting times for residents struggling to get seen at over-burdened neighbouring hospitals. With the expected imminent spike in demand from winter pressures, fears are rising that lives are being put at risk.
Growing disquiet at the knock-on effect on other hospitals, of the closure of emergency services at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith, has also resulted in the surprise announcement by NHS England of its own inquiry into how hospital reconfiguration in west London is being handled.
Official NHS figures show the trusts that run St Mary's, Charing Cross, West Middlesex, Ealing and Northwick Park hospitals have all failed to meet A&E waiting time targets over recent weeks.
In the three weeks after 19 October, all three hospital trusts dipped below the national target, which says 95% of patients should be seen within 4 hours. Performance at North West London Hospitals Trust, which runs Ealing and Northwick Park hospitals, fell to just 67.8% of patients being seen within 4 hours, the second worst result in the country.
Now, four councils in Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing, Brent and Hounslow have got together to set up an impartial inquiry to look in depth at the impact local closures are having, and at the implications of further hospital reorganisation proposals, including the planned closure of services at Charing Cross hospital in Hammersmith.
As well as reviewing the evidence provided by the NHS to support their reorganisation, the commission will be asking others to contribute evidence. It will also commission further research to fill the gaps in existing evidence.
Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council said: "Since plans to change emergency services in our area were first suggested we have felt that our very real concerns have been largely ignored. We have heard lots of spin about what will replace A&E services at Ealing, Charing Cross, Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals but before these changes go any further we need proper answers. By engaging someone of the calibre of Michael Mansfield QC to carry out this independent review we know that the public will get a true picture of what is happening and if the NHS is keeping its word about providing new services before others are closed."
Councillor Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said: "Our worst fears, about the effects of closing local A&Es before the expansion of Northwick Park was complete, have come true. Brent residents now face the longest A&E waiting times in the country and immediate action needs to be taken to resolve this situation as we are talking about life and death emergency treatment. Further delays to the A&E improvements at Northwick Park will only make the problem worse. We will support the Independent Commission, and will be demanding answers from NHS bosses at our next scrutiny committee. West Londoners deserve the best healthcare and this joint review will be vital in shining a light on what has gone on with these botched A&E closures."
"A&E closures are already putting dangerous additional pressures on other hospitals and will only get worse if services at Charing Cross are also closed," says H&F Council Leader, Councillor Stephen Cowan. "The official figures speak for themselves, but we plan to bring some extra, independent scrutiny to examine what local trusts are doing to our hospital services.
"Hundreds of thousands of residents' lives are affected by the closures, but local people have little say over the decisions NHS managers are making. As their elected representatives, the four councils have concluded an impartial review is needed, free of vested interests, of the real and likely impact of these major hospital re-configurations and the financial reality behind them.
The leader of Hounslow Council, Councillor Steve Curran said: "Ensuring a safe and sustainable future for West Middlesex Hospital remains one of Hounslow Council's top priorities. We continue to work closely with Hounslow Clinical Commissioning Group and the NHS Trust to make sure local residents receive the best possible care."
Michael Mansfield QC last year chaired the Lewisham People's Commission, an inquiry into the proposals to close services at Lewisham Hospital. He has represented defendants in criminal trials, appeals and inquiries in some of the most controversial legal cases in the country. He represented the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and the families of victims at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. He chaired an inquiry into the shoot to kill policy in the North of Ireland and has represented many families at inquests, including the Marchioness disaster and the Lockerbie bombing. He also represents the family of Stephen Lawrence.
He will be joined on the commission by Dr Stephen Hirst, a retired GP from Chiswick with extensive local knowledge and John Lister, researcher on the People's Inquiry into London's NHS in 2012 and Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Coventry University. Tim Rideout, former chief executive of Leicester City PCT, will be writing a report on the commission's findings.