Hunt announces A&E downgrade for Lewisham Hospital

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The health secretary has announced the A&E department and maternity unit at Lewisham Hospital will both be downgraded following the financial collapse of the South London NHS Trust.

Jeremy Hunt told MPs in a statement on 31 January 2013 the decision would promote the "best available clinical standards" and "could save up to 100 lives every year".

"I do understand very real concerns about access to health services," he insisted. "The public campaign surrounding services at Lewisham Hospital has highlighted just how important it is to the local community."

His Labour counterpart Andy Burnham countered that "services have been downgraded to pay for the problems of another trust" and, he argued, "without proper consultation, without clinical justification".

The decision comes after the South London Healthcare NHS Trust ran up debts of £150m.

Up to three quarters of those currently attending Lewisham A&E could attend the smaller, consultant-led unit at the hospital recommended by NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, Mr Hunt told MPs.

Patients with more serious conditions could be taken to other hospitals.

Labour MPs representing south-east London echoed Mr Burnham's concerns.

Dame Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford, branded the decision "a sham and a shambles" which was "completely unsuitable", and neighbouring MP Heidi Alexander said "it is far from what my constituents deserve".

Dame Tessa Jowell, former Minister for London and MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, predicted the move would cause "dismay across south London".

But other south London MPs expressed support for the government.

Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst Bob Neill congratulated the health secretary "for taking a tough decision to deal with a problem not of his making" and Lib Dem Simon Hughes, who represents Bermondsey and Old Southwark said: "I appreciate the way he's dealt with the problem."

Chair of the Health Select Committee, the Conservative Stephen Dorrell, praised the government's plans, stressing, "they must be led always by clinical evidence".

Mr Hunt said in answer to several MPs who had asked about the input of GP Commissioning Groups that "they support the principles" of the downgrade.

He acknowledged it was a "challenging and complex" move that "needs to be carried out carefully".

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