Eight years after Charing Cross Hospital was first threatened with demolition, Hammersmith & Fulham Council has recognised the residents and supporters who worked alongside the council to successfully stop the hospital closure plan, by awarding them the Freedom of the Borough.
Speaking about the victory, Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, said: “Stopping the closure of Charing Cross Hospital was a team effort and we couldn’t have achieved it had it not been for a group of committed residents and the game-changing work of the Independent Healthcare Commission (pdf 819KB), led by Michael Mansfield QC. These heroes deserve the highest accolade we can give them – the Freedom of the Borough – for the crucial role they played.”
The hospital closure was first mooted in the government’s Shaping a Healthier Future plan in 2011 and signed off by the Health Secretary in 2013, however no business case for the closure was made. The Independent Healthcare Commission was the brainchild of Cllr Stephen Cowan who persuaded four other West London boroughs to fund the public review alongside Hammersmith & Fulham Council. It went on to conclude that the government’s plan did not stack up.
“The plan to close a number of West London hospitals, including demolishing Charing Cross, selling off most of the land and replacing it with a small clinic, was flawed from the beginning,” said Cllr Cowan, “but fighting it was like stopping a steamroller. So, we needed a comprehensive and objective evidence base that would analyse the plan in detail. The Mansfield Commission held hearings across North West London and operated like a public enquiry. The evidence they produced, along with their conclusion that the plan was unsafe and should be halted until health chiefs could produce a detailed business plan, was the turning point. It gave the council the means to successfully challenge the government - in the courts if necessary. No business plan was ever forthcoming and by the time the hospital closure was delayed again, the plan was out of date and the government had to give up.”
He added: “The residents who campaigned for seven years did so in all weathers. They became experts on the subject and did a huge public service in making sure that the public knew what was planned for their local hospital. That’s why the leaders of Save Our Hospitals were given this award and all those that volunteered on the community campaign were given civic honours. It was a pleasure to work with them and shows what a determined council can achieve with the support of residents and experts, even against apparently overwhelming odds.”
On Wednesday 22 January, commissioners Michael Mansfield QC, Dr Stephen Hirst, and Dr John Lister were given the award in recognition of their work on the Independent Healthcare Commission. Merril Hammer, Anne Drinkell and Jim Grealy also received honours on behalf of all the local Save Our Hospitals campaigners.
A seven year campaign – the turning points
Since 2013 Merril Hammer, Anne Drinkell and Jim Grealy have been key members of the local Save Our Hospitals group set up to protect crucial hospital services for the borough.
Merril Hammer said: “I’m both overwhelmed and proud. We were out in all weathers in the seven years it took to save the hospital. And we’ll continue to fight until our NHS is safe.”
In December 2014, Michael Mansfield QC, Stephen Hirst and Dr John Lister came together to serve on the Independent Healthcare Commission. They held hearings across West London and spent months collecting testimony from residents, clinical experts, local authorities and NHS bosses across five boroughs before publishing their final report in December 2015 which exposed the deep flaws in the NHS closure programme. The commission concluded that the closure plans were never properly costed and must be halted immediately.
The Mansfield Commission conclusions effectively boxed the government in by demanding a business plan which could justify their closure plan, something health chiefs were never able to deliver. Instead they delayed the hospital closure until 2021 and when it became inevitable it was going to delay the plan again their scheme was effectively over.
By March 2019, the Health Secretary announced the government’s capitulation and that NHS England were withdrawing their support for the programme, which meant that the plans to close Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals were finally dropped.
Michael Mansfield QC said: “Hammersmith & Fulham is part of an extremely important tradition of communities coming together to fight for an institution that they believe in. That collective spirit can make all the difference.”
The fight continues
Despite winning the fight to keep Charing Cross Hospital the local NHS is still suffering. Over the past year, cuts of approximately £30million have been proposed, threatening the Parsons Green walk-in centre and the reduction of local GP hours, along with cuts to NHS services such as palliative care.
Meanwhile, the council is challenging a flaw in the government’s funding system which has given a private company called Babylon GP at Hand millions of pounds of the borough's NHS budget and pushed it into deficit.
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