Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this morning announced an odd final decision on the bust South London Health Trust and the controversial plan to downgrade Lewisham Hospital. The plan for Lewisham is now a bizarre fudge that we think might actually be a worse idea.
Previously, the proposal for Lewisham was to stop all emergency admissions, changing the current A&E into an Urgent Care Centre. Now, the plan is to allow Lewisham to admit some patients but those with serious illnesses would have to go elsewhere. This will cause confusion among residents and ambulance services about the best place to go, and even more patients being blue-lit around London. It's being billed as a "smaller A&E" but in reality is still the original Urgent Care Centre with some inpatient beds and a misleading name.
Maternity services will be downgraded to a midwife led unit, which will be able to handle around 10% of the current unit's births. Other hospitals around SE London – already under pressure – will have to take up the overspill in maternity and emergency care. £36m will be made available to expand maternity and £37m for emergency provision at other sites.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham coined the term "Lewishambles" to describe how Hunt has set a precedent for solvent hospitals to be allowed to take the fall for neighbouring health trusts in trouble. Cross party MPs criticised the plans, concerned that finances have overridden clinical considerations. You can read Jeremy Hunt's statement here (PDF). Lewisham Council previously announced its intention to mount a legal challenge if the proposals went through; we'll have to wait for their response to today's announcement. UPDATE: Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock says the council is consulting its lawyers.
Hospitals in other parts of London are also struggling. Campaigners in North London say they are shocked to discover that the Whittington will close and sell off half its site, including wards and residential accommodation for staff. In-patient wards for the elderly and new parents will go and births will be capped at 4,000 a year.
Another hospital capping patient numbers is Queen's in Romford. Its A&E was only designed to handle 90,000 patients a year but is seeing 132,000. This has led to some people having to wait 11 hours before being properly admitted – it will now put a legal limit on the number of people who can be seen if the hospital gets too busy. In other words, the A&E will be required to close its doors if there are too many patients waiting.