NHS update – what’s happening to Charing Cross
I have had a series of meetings on the future of our local NHS, and Charing Cross Hospital in particular, in the last two weeks. These have ranged from seeing the management of Imperial Healthcare Trust, who run Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s, to the long-awaited meeting with the Department of Health on the whole ‘Shaping a Healthier Future Programme’ – the blueprint for A&E and other acute service closures across west London.
Jeremy Hunt still refused to meet us as he has for two years – despite there now being 12 MPs anxious to lobby him on the effect of the closure programme. But we did see the hospitals minister, Jane Ellison, and all the leading NHS bureaucrats in charge of the project. This is what I learned.
• They are still intending to go ahead with the demolition of Charing Cross and its replacement with a small primary care/ elective surgery ‘local hospital’.
• The timetable is slipping. The business case – ie funding for the scheme -may not be agreed until 2018. Hence their decision to move all stroke services from St Mary’s to Charing Cross for at least five years – so no demolition until at least 2020.
• The business case, in fact the whole project, looks increasingly rocky. It will require at least £1 billion in capital and £250m in implementation costs. £500m is for St Mary’s rebuilding alone, and another £150m for Charing Cross.
Frankly, I can’t see this ever happening. It is another white elephant scheme like Paddington Basin. The difference here is that for all the public money and input of time and effort (much of the cash going to management consultants) the end result would be a smaller, less comprehensive NHS. The whole thing is quite mad.
If I am right, Charing Cross will still be there for them to attempt to close again in 20 years’ time (remember the last attempt was in 1992). The logic of keeping it (and Ealing Hospital) is remorseless. Population is spiralling in west London with 50,000 new homes planned just in H&F. Our health needs grow more complex, especially as the population ages. The primary and community care services that are supposed to reduce demand for acute hospital services are vestigial and will never replace the need for A&E services (not my view but that of the College of Emergency Medicine).
But this doesn’t mean I’m optimistic for the future of the NHS – just like the reorganisation that the Coalition Government inflicted on it, this rebuilding programme, even if it never happens, is a huge distraction and opportunity cost and staff are voting with their feet to go elsewhere.
Meanwhile, there was still no sign of the report into the effects of the Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A&E closures on waiting times at Charing Cross and elsewhere, six months after it was supposed to be published.
A Parliamentary Question from me elicited the response that it had been quietly slipped onto the NHS England website a few weeks ago – hidden in plain sight. No one was told about it, indeed Imperial denied they knew anything about it.
You can understand why – it showed even a small change in demand threw the remaining A&Es into chaos before Christmas. These were two small part-time or under-resourced A&Es. What would happen if they did close the major services at Charing Cross?
Developers’ dirty deals
Last week I hosted a cross-London meeting of politicians, housing and planning experts and community campaigners at the Commons about the tricks developers use to avoid building affordable homes. It was based on work by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Nick Mathiason of the Bureau published an excellent article on Tuesday about this issue, as did Oliver Wainwright in the Guardian.
The developers use ‘viability assessments’ to justify no or very few affordable or social homes but the figures are concocted by their experts and based on their often incorrect estimates of sale price, profit and development costs. These are hidden from local residents and even from council planning committees on grounds of 'commercial confidentiality' and go unchallenged.
It can be almost impossible to get these viability reports out in the open. In the case of the Heygate development in Southwark, campaigners fought a 3 year legal battle before the Information Commissioner forced the Council and developer to make the viability assessment public. In Earl’s Court, K&C finally gave in and produced the assessment – but only when it was too late to stop the application being approved
These issues are complex and to date have not received much attention outside the small circle of academics and housing campaigners. It is good to see that this issue is finally being reported properly in the press and is being discussed by local and national politicians. This, and many other aspects of the housing crisis in London, will rightly be on the top of the agenda in the upcoming mayoral elections.
Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who emailed me about the Tories’ attempt to relax the fox hunting ban. Now David Cameron has moved the vote back to an undetermined date because he thought he would lose. Regardless of your view on the issue, trying to spring a vote at short notice was a shabby way to act.
I think the ban is necessary, and it is working. It has not cost jobs, seen hounds destroyed or altered a rural way of life as hunt supporters predicted. The emails I received were about 7 to 1 in favour of the status quo and if there is a vote in the future I will oppose any relaxation.
No Third Runway
The opposition to a Third Runway at Heathrow rumbles on and on. I, and several other MPs, have signed this letter to David Cameron calling on him to re-open the Airports Commission’s consultation on air quality. You can read the coverage here.
Week in Westminster
Losing a pet can be an extremely difficult time for anyone, let alone when that pet is the victim of cruelty or neglect. Last week I was asked to take part in a debate on whether the sentencing laws for animal cruelty are sufficiently robust. You can read my speech here and subsequent Buzzfeed coverage of the debate here.
After reports that MPs had been "kept in the dark" about the involvement of British pilots in airstrikes in Syria, I decided to ask the Defence Secretary if he was planning another vote on the matter. You can read my question here.
I also spoke in a debate on the support available to victims of contaminated blood. You can read my contribution here.
Independent Living Fund lives on in H&F
One of the priorities for H&F’s Labour Council has been maintaining and improving services for disabled people, despite the cuts in Government support. Last week I attended and spoke in a debate on the Independent Living Fund, you can read my contribution here. I was delighted that H&F are going to continue to fund the ILF despite the Government abandoning it. It is essential to the independence and quality of life of severely disabled Hammersmith residents.
I’ve had a great time over the past two weekends visiting St Andrew’s, AgeUK, West London Free School, Argyll & Glyn Mansions, the Upper Room (25 this year), and Queen’s Club Gardens for their summer fairs and parties.
I dropped into the Brook Green Market to visit the Portobello Brewing Company’s stand. For each of the next two weeks there is a different local craft beer brewery offering refreshment. You can visit their website here.
As the month of Ramadan came to an end I attended Iftars (breaking the fast) as a guest of Al Muntada Trust in Parsons Green and Egyptian House in White City. The Egyptian Iftar is hosted by the Coptic Christian community as a celebration of integration and religious tolerance.
Last week, as a friend of the Kosovan and Albanian diaspora, I attended the Kosovan Embassy, where both the President and Tony Blair were out shone by international pop star Rita Ora. Rita, who was born in Kosovo, was made an honorary Ambassador and spoke incredibly well about her life and new role.
This week I experienced a recreation of the Great Stink of 1858 when the overwhelming stench of sewage forced MPs to flee the House of Commons to begin the great public works that gave us our current (Victorian) sewer system. This event was organised by WaterAid to highlight the fact that while we enjoy clean water and good sanitation, there are many people across the world who do not have access to these necessities.
I was joined by a reincarnated Joseph Bazalgette, who built both the sewers and Hammersmith Bridge. He was unable to confirm when he'll be returning to repair it.
Finally, I was visited by year 9 from Phoenix High School who had come to the Houses of Parliament for a tour and to learn about what MPs do. It’s a real pleasure to talk to young people about what they want from politicians. Why not get your school to visit?