A damning report which demands a debt-ridden NHS trust is broken up must not be used to justify closing essential hospital services, a senior Labour MP has said.
Dame Joan Ruddock said the special administrator’s report into South London Healthcare Trust was being used to force through a “major reconfiguration of services via the back door”.
She said claims by the trust’s special administrator Matthew Kershaw that Lewisham Hospital, run by Lewisham Healthcare Trust, needs to close its accident and emergency department could not be justified.
Raising an urgent question in the Commons, she said: “In order to tackle the huge financial deficits sustained by the South London Healthcare Trust, the TSA proposes to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E services, including the acclaimed children’s A&E, end medical and surgical emergency care and demolish maternity services.
“He then proposes to sell off half the hospital’s land. This cannot be justified - 120,000 use Lewisham A&E each year, over 30,000 children use the children’s A&E, over 4,000 babies are born in the hospital each year. And there is no current capacity in any of the hospitals in the area.”
She added: “These proposals amount to a major reconfiguration by the back door and they are opposed by virtually all the health professionals in the area and the people of Lewisham.
“Do you believe that a reconfiguration of services in south east London is necessary? If it is, then you need to propose one with the relevant consideration for patient safety and healthcare standards.”
The trust was the first ever to be placed in administration after it started losing around £1.3m a week. It should now be broken up, with other organisations taking over its management, Mr Kershaw said.
According to his report - which was presented after no “viable alternatives” were put forward - its hospitals will need to make £74.9m of efficiency savings over the next three years. Of that, £42m could be saved by cutting 140 staff from the trust’s three hospitals.
Implementing Mr Kershaw’s recommendations would cost around £313m, while the trust’s debts are expected to reach £207m by March.
He said ministers should bail the trust out of its massive private finance initiative debts, which built up after new buildings at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich and Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough, near Bromley, and account for 16 per cent of its income.
Speaking in the Commons, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he needed more time to consider his response to the report.
He said: “I do understand the concerns of MPs and indeed the people living in the areas affected by these proposals, especially the people of Lewisham.
“They have the right to expect the highest quality of NHS care and I have a duty to ensure that I receive it. However, they will understand it would not be appropriate for me to give a view now on the report’s recommendations only a day after receiving it.
“To do so would be pre-emptive and would prejudice my duty to consider the recommendations with care and reach a decision that is in the best interest of the people of south-east London.
“The challenges facing South London Trust are complex and long-standing and to fail to address them is to penalise other parts of the NHS from whom resources must be taken to finance the biggest deficit anywhere in the NHS.”