The launch of the independent Commission on the future of our A&Es is a good time to reflect on the work Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour council has done to protect the local health service.
A key aspect of the May 2014 election campaign was anger over the previous Conservative administration’s decision to support the effective removal of both A&Es in the borough and the sale of most of the Charing Cross site to developers for conversion into luxury flats.
In the years before the election, dedicated volunteers in the Save our Hospitals campaign leafleted residents, ran street stalls and gathered tens of thousands of residents to raise awareness about the NHS’ dangerous closures plans. In its election manifesto, Hammersmith and Fulham Labour pledged to immediately reverse the Council’s position and to fight for the future of Charing Cross A&E and
the borough’s health service.
The first step Labour took after winning the Council was to establish a Hospitals and Health Unit to coordinate an assertive and informed campaign against the closures. The unit conducts research, submits Freedom of Information requests, tracks the changing positions taken by health bosses and monitors the worrying impacts on A&E waiting times of those closures that have already taken place. It has also supported the other steps set out below.
The new administration met Imperial College Healthcare Trust to notify them of the Council’s firm opposition to the closures and make it clear that this was backed by the overwhelming majority of local residents. More important than these private meetings, however, was the use of the council’s new Policy and Accountability Committee that oversees health issues to publically scrutinise Imperial’s plans. Health bosses were questioned by both councillors and the public, and it soon
became clear that their plans lacked substance, and that Imperial could not explain how West London’s remaining A&Es would cope with closures. They were also unable to explain what facilities would stay in the small area of Charing Cross that wouldn’t be sold to developers, further undermining Conservative claims that the hospital had been “Saved” in 2013.
The Council has also been making its voice heard in important forums outside the council. The renewed opposition to the plans has been put forcefully at meetings held by Imperial Board, the Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group, HealthWatch and the North West London Joint Scrutiny Board. This has filled a gap left by the complete lack of public debate and scrutiny undertaken by the Imperial Trustees and other health authorities that should be challenging the lack
of planning or consultation into one of the biggest upheavals ever seen to A&E provision in London.
The administration has also written to Jeremy Hunt and the Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission to highlight Imperial’s lack of preparation for any A&E closures and its degrading financial position.
A key reason why Charing Cross has been chosen for demolition is the desirable land it sits on.
Imperial has admitted in its business plans that it wants to sell most of the site to address its financial problems and spend on facilities outside of Hammersmith and Fulham. Bosses have evenly recently speculated about turning the main hospital tower block into flats. With a growing population in the Borough and across West London, this is incredibly short-sighted—once the site is lost to the NHS it will be almost impossible to replace. The recognise the importance of the Charing Cross site to the whole community, the new administration has set in train the process of changing the Local Planning Framework. Labour also made clear its opposition to the plans at a recent gathering of the world’s major property developers.
H&F residents and their council cannot fight this battle alone. Across West London there is concern over the NHS’ reckless closure plans. For that reason, the H&F’s administration has joined forces with Brent, Ealing and Hounslow to establish an independent Health Commission, chaired by Michael Mansfield QC. The NHS failed to consult local residents properly on their plans—if they did, they would have seen just how much opposition they faced. The Health Commission will speak to residents and clinicians across the four boroughs and produce an independent view on the future of the area’s A&Es. This will ensure that whichever Government is in charge of the NHS after May 2015 will be presented with detailed, independent facts setting out the impact of West London’s proposed A&E closures.
These efforts have attracted considerable media attention, with highlights including:
Independent: Double-Speak from NHS bosses
Evening Standard: Memo which shows financial crisis at Imperial
Daily Mail: A&E unit in London faces axe...after PM promised personally it would stay open
Evening Standard: A&E waiting times at west London hospitals hit a record after closures
BBC: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital told services not good enough
Evening Standard: Top barrister to investigate impact of A&E closures on patient safety
There is still much to do to save our hospitals. Imperial and Jeremy Hunt have not given way, but they now face a broader, more forceful and better informed opposition than ever before.
Vivienne Lukey H&F Councillor, Fulham Reach Ward