The government’s intervention into the future of Chase Farm Hospital was “the signal” it would not support “courageous” decommissioning decisions, according to a former health minister.

Labour peer Lord Hunt, who was appointed chair of Heart of England Foundation Trust in March, also questioned whether clinical commissioning groups would have the clout to carry through future decisions on service redesign against strong opposition from the public.

At meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Care and Public Health – of which he also chair – Lord Hunt said there would have to be “real redesign” of services to comply with pressures to reduce acute beds and tough financial targets.

However, he questioned whether, “when it comes down to it”, commissioning groups would “actually stand up” for the “kind of changes we know need to be made”.  

“Because I have to say, the indications so far are that government is not really going to come down on the side of those who want to make changes,” he added.

Lord Hunt said Chase Farm “was a signal to the rest of us that the government is not going to support courageous change”.

The case in question centres on plans to move 24-hour accident and emergency and consultant-led maternity services from Chase Farm hospital in Enfield, with full services provided instead at Barnet Hospital and North Middlesex University Hospital Trust.

However, the plans faced stiff local opposition and in March Andrew Lansley intervened and instructed Enfield council to come up with an alternative.

Since then it has faced further delays after redrafted proposals were rejected by MPs in April.

The Labour-run council produced a 19-page document urging Mr Lansley to keep services open at Chase Farm and to review the primary care trust allocations formula.

But the borough’s two Conservatives MPs – Enfield North MP Nick de Bois, a member of the Health and Social Care Bill committee, and Enfield Southgate MP David Burrowes – said the council’s submission to the health secretary did not present a viable plan for hospital services.