The decision by Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing councils to refuse ‘secretive’ hospital closure plans was backed by hundreds at a packed town hall meeting this week.
Nearly 700 cheered and applauded the leaders of the councils as they explained why they have refused to sign up to the local NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP). Councils across the UK have been asked to endorse similar plans for each region of the NHS, before they are submitted to government for approval.
“The STP is a deeply cynical re-hash of the earlier flawed plans which now proposes to close Charing Cross Hospital in 2021,” said Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
“There are no good arguments for demolishing Charing Cross or for selling off much of the land and replacing it with an urgent care clinic just 13 per cent the size of the hospital. That’s why this administration will continue its fierce defence of Charing Cross and the vital local NHS services people rely on.”
Watch the video of Cllr Cowan speaking at the meeting
The meeting drew campaigners from across the region who have been fighting plans to close or downgrade services at five out of the nine hospitals in north west London.
Despite the published plans, an NHS spokesman has 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.”
Anne Drinkell, of the Save our Hospitals campaign, said: “This is a cuts and closures programme. We’re not saying we want no change. But objectively there’s already not enough capacity in our local hospital so closing more services would be unsafe.”
Campaigners were united in condemning the tactics being used to force through drastic reductions in local health services secretively and without public consultation.
The NHS has pressured councils to approve STPs by linking it to the release of vital government cash needed to keep councils’ social care services from collapsing under ever-rising demand.
But Cllr Julian Bell, Leader of Ealing Council, said: “The NHS tried to bounce us into signing the STP. They tried to get us to agree to the STP on the basis of a two-page summary and they told us we didn’t need to see the full document. We insisted, but it didn’t arrive until they day before we were meant to sign it. And once we finally saw what was in it, we understood why. There was no way on earth I was going to sign up to those plans.”
Dr David Wingfield, chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham GP Federation, suggested the STP was not equipped to tackle the health and social care problems facing the borough. He offered to form a ‘grand alliance’ between GPs, councillors and members of the community to confront local healthcare challenges.