After seven years and hundreds of millions wasted, the Secretary of State for Health admitted at Health Questions in Parliament today, that the Government has abandoned plans to demolish Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals. This is how I responded.
Announcing a u-turn on ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ the biggest hospital closure programme in NHS history, Matt Hancock said ‘’Shaping a healthier future is no longer supported by the Department of Health and Social Care…as for the changes in A&E in west London…for instance those at Charing Cross Hospital…these will not happen.’
The NHS, locally and in London, had not been told about the announcement but later confirmed in a statement ‘we will not be taking forward the plans as set out in Shaping a Healthier Future for changes to Ealing and Charing Cross Hospitals’
Shaping a Healthier Future was approved over six years ago and despite huge opposition from residents led by the Save our Hospitals group, Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing Councils, and clinicians has remained Government policy until today. It would have seen the full demolition of the hospitals with closure of A&E services and loss of 1,000 inpatient beds across north-west London, including over 300 at Charing Cross. Parts of the sites were to be sold for commercial development and primary care services installed on the remaining land.
After the closure of A&E departments at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals in 2014, waiting times grew to some of the longest in the country. It was clear that the closure plans were both politically toxic and unfeasible in the light of growing demand.
The final nail was the cash crisis in the NHS. A bid for £260 million to redevelop the Ealing site was refused in December 2018 with only £10 million granted.
By slipping out the climb down in response to a planted question from a local Tory MP today, the Government not only insulted the local NHS but put forward no plans for clearing up the mess they have made.
Last month the Times revealed a £600 million backlog in maintenance at Imperial Healthcare Trust’s three hospitals, Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s. No funding has been made available to meet this gap.
My first reaction to the news was this:
‘Charing Cross is a world-class hospital at the heart of our community. Its brilliant staff have lived for nearly seven years with the threat of closure, while hundreds of millions were wasted on management consultants dreaming up schemes that were bound to fail. The defeat of these demolition plans is a great victory for our local community, supported by Labour councils in Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing and by the Save our Hospitals campaign. We will start by celebrating the survival of a great hospital, but quickly move back to campaign mode. The Government no longer has the fig-leaf of Shaping a Healthier Future to hide behind. They must come up with the money for both our neglected hospitals and underfunded primary care services.’
Now the nightmare is over it is difficult to believe that back in 2012 we faced a hostile coalition of central Government, the Mayor and local council, all then Tory-controlled. I will never forgive Conservatives in Hammersmith for supporting the demolition of Charing Cross – wherever else local hospitals were threatened Party differences were put aside to fight closures.
The new battle we have to fight is for NHS funding. Our local NHS, already reducing GP out-of-hours services and having to cut around £30 million, has another £10 million bill this year to pay for the private GP at Hand service which is preying on GP services here, with the active support of the Secretary of State.
But for today let us breathe a sigh of relief that Charing Cross’s future is secure.