A publicity campaign, informing the residents of west London that their local hospital A&E services are closing, has been met with alarm and dismay by local people.
The NHS’s public relations consultants have issued posters and leaflets telling residents their local A&E services at Hammersmith hospital are ‘changing’, when in fact they are being closed on September 10, with major emergencies being diverted to the already over-stretched St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Current NHS plans would also see more than 80% of the Charing Cross Hospital site sold off, with its A&E department replaced with GP services.
NHS bosses appointed spin specialists, M&C Saatchi, at considerable expense to taxpayers, to make these major closures palatable to the public. Their tactics have been described by Hammersmith & Fulham Council as ‘Orwellian’. The Council has called for a vigorous defence of Charing Cross Hospital and the borough’s A&Es.
In an effort to alert local residents to the impending threat to local services, H&F Council has been sending regular updates to residents through its weekly news alerts and there has been a horrified response from the public.
Local resident, Derek Gassyt, emailed the council to say: "After some years in Hammersmith, myself and my wife have had a number of visits to Charing Cross, Hammersmith, and Chelsea Westminster Hospitals, for both A&E and various clinics. It’s quite obvious to us that there is NO excess capacity in any of these A&Es or clinics. The notion of closing any of the above and maintaining any sort adequate public health is a horribly misinformed policy!!"
He is far from alone in his concerns. The council’s inbox has been overflowing with concerned residents’ comments.
Local cancer patient Deb T says; "I am horrified by the weasel words used in a publically-funded, so-called 'information' campaign. The local closures - sorry, changes - are ill-conceived. St Mary's is already in breach of its A&E targets and hard to reach by public transport - hardly a local solution for patients in West London."
Rose Hunt adds; "We need hospitals for a growing population. There are so many high rise flats being built in this area proving that we need to keep our hospitals with their excellent staff and services. St Mary’s are under enough pressure already, the buildings are ancient (with the exception of the private wing)."
A resident describing himself and ‘Old Mike’ says: "As an 80 year-old man and wife we are horrified by this proposal. We have used Charing Cross for emergency treatment and see no way that the proposal could serve these needs like this. Since the proposal is to replace the hospital with a facility 13% the size or even less, does it mean the other 87% is available for burying the people that would not get necessary medical treatment?"
Joanne Gilhooly says; "I am extremely worried about not having a proper A&E in my community. I feel that we should not be pushed into accepting this."
Maggie Navarrete says her boyfriend’s life was saved by staff at Hammersmith Hospital’s A&E. She says: " Had we been taken to another hospital, without the outstanding cardiac facilities Hammersmith Hospital, and in particular, the knowledge and experience of staff in the A&E, we may have lost a young life which was saved, rehabilitated and contributing once again in society."
H&F Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, has urged NHS managers to take heed of the views of local residents. "Local people are in the dark about the impending closure of Hammersmith A&E. If they turn up after 10 September, they will find the A&E closed and that could put lives at risk. The only reason anyone has any idea the A&E is closing is because of publicity from the council and local community campaigners."
NHS managers say centralising A&E services at fewer, specialist centres will improve the quality of the services available and will help save lives. An NHS spokesperson says: " Following the closure of Hammersmith A&E, we have prepared extra capacity at St Mary's nearby for around 13 extra admissions a day by opening a 15 bed elderly medical ward. There will be an extended 24/7 urgent care centre at Hammersmith to care for patients with a range of minor illnesses and conditions that are urgent but not life-threatening, such as cuts or minor fractures which need an x-ray. There is no proposal in our clinical strategy to close the A&E at Charing Cross Hospital. We are awaiting further guidance from NHS England to guide the development of emergency services appropriate for a local hospital. Our strategy is clear that there will be a continued 24/7 emergency service at Charing Cross Hospital."