Times campaign on the verge of VICTORY?

PUBLISHED: 16:59 26 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:25 12 August 2010

PLEDGE: MP James Brokenshire said there would be no forced closure.

PLEDGE: MP James Brokenshire said there would be no forced closure.

HOSPITAL chiefs claim they are pressing forward with plans to close vital A&E and maternity units despite top Conservative MPs promising the Times campaign they would be stopped.

HOSPITAL chiefs claim they are pressing forward with plans to close vital A&E and maternity units despite top Conservative MPs promising the Times campaign they would be stopped.

The Times has battled since 2007 to prevent axing 999 services at Queen Mary's Hospital (QMS), Sidcup and in recent days it looked as if the hospital's fate had been saved at the 11th hour.

Top Tories told the Times they would honour promises to save QMS' consultant-led maternity and A&E care and the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised he would "put an end to the imposition of top-down reconfigurations in the NHS."

But the Department of Health (DoH) is now silent on whether pre-election pledges will stick and South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) bosses allege they have not been told to stop the cuts set out in a A Picture of Health (APoH) consultation.

Under the previous government proposals the over-burdened Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH), Farnborough will take the emergency QMS overspill.

MP for Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire said he could absolutely confirm there would be "no forced closure."

But on Tuesday a spokesperson for the DoH said: "It doesn't matter what promises came from the Conservatives. There are other people who are in the ministerial team. It is a coalition government. Decisions will be made on a collective basis. It is too early to comment on individual hospitals."

Geoff Martin from London Health Emergency, which campaigns against the capital's hospital cuts, said: "Beware- Andrew Lansley has a caveat with everything he does. All he needs to do is get some medical director he has employed to say he supports the cuts.

"Unless we slam the brakes on QMS closing now then they will say it is too late. NHS London has been told to halt all reorganisation so I don't understand why SLHT is still going ahead.

"It would be political dynamite if south London was being ring-fenced from the rest of the city. We need it written in blood that it won't close."

But asked for a yes or no answer to whether the A&E would close, an SLHT spokesperson said: "We are going ahead with the APoH plans."

He added: "There seems to be a slightly different message when they were in opposition to what's happening now they are in government."

Under APoH proposals, QMS A&E and consultant-led maternity services will shut in September.

SLHT said it has been told to "carry on with business as usual" but to regard guidelines issued by Andrew Lansley.

Mr Lansley stated decisions on NHS service changes must be based on "sound clinical evidence" and Trusts must liaise with GPs.

He added: "Local NHS organisations which have already started to look at changing services will need to make sure that that their plans meet these criteria before continuing."

Kentish Times series group editor Melody Foreman said: "The Times campaign has always questioned the truth of APoH claims which repeatedly alleged that 100 clinicians supported plans to axe QMS' services.

"A year-long Freedom of Information Times battle resulted in APoH being ordered to release the names of these clinicians but they could only produce a list of 53 invitees who they believed attended the 'workstreams' where they supposedly backed the proposals.

"Of those, just seven were from QMS and one who the Times contacted before the Trust told their staff not to speak to us said he was totally against the cuts.

"We revealed last June how APoH provided no evidence of what the clinicians said, no full record of invitees and no minutes of any meetings.

"Surely the brutal proposals of the previous government to axe these vital services will be scrapped proving the opinions of local people do have some power after all.

"This latest development has provided all those many, many campaigners with a last hope of success." The Trust has been told it must liaise with GPs to see if they support the plans but it could not confirm how or when that would happen, who would be responsible, whether their views would be made public, whether they would be named and how many would be spoken to.

Mr Brokenshire said: "Hospital trust bosses may want to believe that there will be no change to their plans but this is completely speculative on their part. All current proposals have to be reviewed by the DoH and detailed steps for considering changes in the London area have not even been finalised. I will be making this point very firmly to Ministers to ensure that national policy is adhered to in respect of QMS."

A Trust board meeting took place yesterday where the crisis was discussed. Mr Brokenshire is due to meet with SLHT chief executive Chris Streather and chairman George Jenkins tomorrow.

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