31 Jul 2013

High court throws out Lewisham hospital cuts plan

Plans by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to axe casualty and maternity services at Lewisham hospital in south east London are thrown out by a high court judge who deems them “unlawful”.

Campaigners march to save Lewisham hospital in January (R)

Proposals to downgrade the London hospital were ruled unlawful by Mr Justice Silber, who said Hunt had acted outside his powers.

The judge said the government had broken regulations of the 2006 national health services act.

In January, Mr Hunt told MPs his plans to cut the hospital’s services were necessary because of the £1m losses made every week by the South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

Elisabeth Laing QC, acting for Lewisham council, told the judge at a recent hearing at London’s high court that Lewisham hospital was a “very good hospital” and the range of health services provided there was “greatly valued by local people and by the council.

“If the changes were made, it would mean local people will have to travel a long, long way further to get access to vital services”, said Ms Laing.

‘An incredible day’ for campaigners

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham described the ruling as a “humiliation” for Mr Hunt.

He said: “This ruling fires a shot across the bows of a Tory-led government which is taking the NHS backwards by prioritising finances over patient care and riding roughshod over people.”

Campaigners fighting the health secretary’s plans welcomed the judge’s ruling.

Local GP Dr Louise Irvine, who chairs the Save Lewisham Hospital initiative, said: “This is an incredible day. We are delighted for every single person who has supported the campaign and those who will now continue to benefit from this extraordinary hospital.

“David Cameron himself said that there would be no ‘top-down’ approach to closures and we appreciate the court’s decision, which should serve as a reminder to this government.”

The judge gave the health secretary permission to appeal against his decision.

‘Disappointed by this decision’

A Department of Health spokesman 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.

“As it stands, the South London Healthcare NHS Trust has been running at a loss of about £1 million a week – money that has to be diverted from frontline patient care. So of course we are disappointed by this decision. We need to consider the judgment carefully, and have obtained permission to appeal.

“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.”