NHS London’s chief executive has delivered a withering verdict on a council’s criticism of reconfiguration plans, which she said was “grossly undermined by an apparent lack of understanding” of both the proposals and the law.

Dame Ruth Carnall’s unequivocal attack followed the publication last month of a report commissioned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council into NHS North West London’s blueprint for services. Two accident and emergency departments would close if the primary care trust cluster’s plan is implemented.

The document, written by former NHS Leicester City chief executive Tim Rideout, was cited by the council as “independent” evidence that the proposals were “fundamentally flawed”.

In a letter to Mr Rideout, seen by HSJ, Dame Ruth said: “It is unfortunate that what could have been a credible report from someone with a track record of leadership in the NHS is so grossly undermined by an apparent lack of understanding, both of the legislative and policy framework around consultation and the proposals themselves.”

She added in the letter, which was copied to senior figures including NHS Commissioning Board chief executive Sir David Nicholson, that a report “with so many inherent weaknesses…offers a poor foundation on which to base opinion”.

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan was published in July for a 14-week consultation. It involves the scrapping of A&E departments at Imperial College Healthcare Trust’s Hammersmith and Charing Cross hospitals, as well as moving the hyper acute stroke unit from Charing Cross.

Mr Rideout concluded the document “failed to explore genuine alternatives to A&E closures; used location to decide downgrade options, rather than needs of local people [and failed] to independently verify the financial modelling used to determine the level of savings needed”.

Dame Ruth told HSJ she understood that “nothing as ambitious and complex as this is going to be without criticism” but that the report was a “fairly weak critique” of the plans.

“It is portrayed as an independent report but it was commissioned by the council, in their words, to ‘pick it apart’. It’s unfair to call it independent,” she added.  

Hammersmith and Fulham cabinet member for community care Marcus Ginn said: “We share the concerns raised in Mr Rideout’s review. It is the council that published Mr Rideout’s report in order to inform the public’s involvement in the consultation.

“It is disappointing that Dame Ruth Carnell’s personal attack has been made public.”

Mr Rideout said: “I continue to stand by the conclusions reached during the course of my review.”