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Lewisham downgrade decision 'illegal'

Lewisham downgrade decision 'illegal'

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The High Court has overturned Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. 

The London Borough of Lewisham and other campaigners took the Department of Health and Hunt to court for attempting to downgrade the A&E and maternity units. 

The judge said Hunt’s decisions had to take into account the opinions of clinical commissioning groups

He added it was “quite clear” that Lewisham CCG did not support the proposals. 

When a Trust Special Administrator (TSA) was appointed to find a solution to financial problems at the South London Health Trust (SLHT), Lewisham Hospital was included, although it was not part of the original remit. 

'Financially solvent'

The final report recommended downgrading Lewisham Hospital – which had previously been described as “high performing and financially solvent” – in order to save money for the neighbouring hospitals. 

The judge, Justice Silber said "On the contrary, [the commissioners] strongly opposed [the plans] although those GP commissioners in a number of surrounding but different areas were happy with them.

"I considered that it was the absence of support from the local GP commissioners which constituted an additional reason why the decision of the Secretary of State cannot stand."

Lewisham CCG chair Dr Helen Tattersfield told The Commissioning Review her group was the only one to complain because the others were not affected. 

She said: "Dealing with the decision to downgrade and the fight back against it has been a huge distraction. When we should have been planning forward we were tied up in endless meetings.

"But now we will have more confidence to plan services the way they should be."

'Worrying'

A Department of Health spokesman told the BBC that Hunt's department was "disappointed by the decision".

He said: "This judgment applies to one aspect of a package of changes which we believe are in the best long-term interests of patients and the public across south-east London.

"We expect to continue other elements of that package of changes, including the dissolution of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, planned for October 1 - although there are a number of steps to go before that can take place."

 Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council, said: ““It is deeply worrying in the case of Lewisham hospital that the High Court has found that the Health Secretary breached his statutory powers when making the decision to downgrade the emergency care department and maternity units at the hospital.
 

 “Doctors, healthcare staff and patients were concerned that the consultation period was too short and that local people needed more time to put their views across. It is vital that changes to services have the confidence of the local community and the NHS staff who work there.” 

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “There is no doubt the administrator's proposals for South London and Lewisham have caused controversy, but we should remember that the original intention shared by all organisations was to find a way to create sustainable high quality care that was affordable. This remains the underlying issue that has to be solved and one which cannot be ignored.”

Farrar added that the NHS could not afford to “lose time” in deciding the best way forward. 

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