|Jeremy Hunt: surprise announcement|
Jeremy Hunt made the announcement to a somewhat surprised Andy Slaughter MP, who had asked the following question, dripping with anti Tory venom:
"Last week’s decision to close four north-west London A and Es, including Charing Cross and Hammersmith in my constituency, will shortly be on the Secretary of State’s desk, as he predicts. It was referred by Labour Ealing council because Tory Hammersmith and Fulham council supports the closures. Will the Secretary of State refer the matter for independent review? This is the biggest hospital closure programme in the history of the NHS. It will see a world-class hospital downgraded to 3% of its size"Mr Slaughter was clearly not expecting the response from this Conservative Minister, or else he would presumably have laid off the politicking. He probably had a condemnatory press release ready to be delivered to media inboxes. But Mr Hunt responded thus:
"I am aware how concerned people are throughout north-west London about the proposals. If the matter is referred to me by Ealing council, I will indeed ask the independent reconfiguration panel for its independent view on the proposals".Where does this leave the hospitals? Well, with another seat in the last chance saloon, but this time the judge and jury won't be a politicised NHS bureaucracy hellbent on closures but a body that is genuinely independent. So it's a chance for the arguments which are now well rehearsed, well researched and increasingly effectively delivered by the community campaign to be re-put. They will need to be careful, however, to avoid their Achilles heel of appearing to be rabidly anti Tory full stop.
Where does this leave our Council? I'm afraid to say looking increasingly vulnerable to the charge of having sold out our hospitals before they needed to, and now facing the ignominy of a Conservative Government potentially agreeing with the community campaign rather than them, if the independent review finds differently to their deal with the technocrats. Oh, and having a neighbouring Council acting on behalf of H&F residents because they have chosen not to. I think that must be unprecedented.
Not one to overlook that, Andy Slaughter said last night:
"I am pleased that the Secretary of State realises how devasting the closures of Charing Cross Hospital as and the other three A&Es in NW London are for my constituents. This is the biggest single closure programme in the history of the NHS, and it is right that it go for consideration by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. However, residents of Hammersmith needs to know that this is only happening because of the resolve of Ealing Council. Hammersmith and Fulham Council voted to prevent the review that the Secretary of State promised today".Fair play to the campaigners and, for that matter, to the Government. I had thought when the news of this was announced with such fanfare by our Council that this was probably the best deal on offer. I now think I was wrong, and this development would seem to underline that. The Save our Hospitals campaign deserve a huge amount of credit for not giving up, and this latest review is a very unexpected indication that all may not, after all, be lost.
"This shows how short-sighted and spiteful the actions of Hammersmith and Fulham Council were in supporting the closures and trying to pretend to residents that Charing Cross had been “saved”. Today’s announcement shows that they do not even have the backing of their own Tory Secretary of State for their aggressive and misguided treatment of the borough’s hospitals and my constituents".