Lewisham Hospital: A&E cut over neighbouring trust debt

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Media captionCampaigners have opposed the closure of the new A&E ward

The A&E department at Lewisham Hospital in south-east London is to be downgraded and made smaller as part of cost-cutting measures.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also said the maternity unit at Lewisham would be replaced with a midwife-led facility.

The cuts aim to help tackle debts of £150m at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust (SLHT).

Campaigners gathered outside the hospital on Thursday evening in protest at Mr Hunt's announcement.

Mr Hunt told MPs earlier: "I respect and recognise the sense of unfairness people feel because their hospital has been caught up in the financial problems of its neighbour.

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Media captionJeremy Hunt: "If you specialise treatment for the more complex needs, you'll give people better care"

"However, solving the financial crisis next door is also in the interest of the people of Lewisham because they too depend on the services which are currently part of South London Healthcare Trust."

Mr Hunt accepted six of the seven proposals put forward by trust special administrator Matthew Kershaw.

'Dangerous precedents'

He said £36m would be allocated to expanding capacity at the hospitals which would take on high-risk births from Lewisham.

He said the SLHT, which is in administration, was the "most financially challenged in the country", as it spends £60m a year, or 16% of its annual income, to service two PFI contracts signed in 1998.

Mr Hunt confirmed the SLHT would be dissolved by October 2013 and its hospitals re-configured.

He decided to amend the seventh proposal which had called for the A&E to become an "urgent care centre".

Instead up to three-quarters of those currently attending Lewisham A&E could attend a new, smaller service at the hospital, he said.

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

Mr Hunt said overall the proposals could save up to 100 lives a year by encouraging higher clinical standards.

He said it was on the advice of NHS medical director Professor Bruce Keogh that the decision was taken to retain Lewisham Hospital's A&E in the best interests of patients.

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Media captionAndy Burnham: "This is a proposal driven by money. The doctors in Lewisham do not support it"

Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, said the move would "set dangerous precedents".

'Not the end'

Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, said: "Today's proposals are a sham and a shambles and unacceptable to those who represent people in Lewisham."

Mr Hunt responded: "A sham and a shambles is what I inherited, not what I'm bequeathing."

The changes are part of a radical overhaul proposed in response to SLHT losing about £1.3m a week.

At least 15,000 people took part in a protest march against the plans on Saturday.

Jos Bell, a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, called the announcement "a complete travesty".

She rejected Mr Hunt's estimate that journey times to other A&Es in the area would only take one minute longer.

Ms Bell, who collapsed with heart and respiratory failure in 2006, added: "I'm only alive because Lewisham is where it is."

Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock said: "The secretary of state is riding roughshod over the people of Lewisham. This is not the end of the matter.

"I do not believe that the trust special administrator had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the secretary of state therefore has no power to implement them.

"I will be talking to our lawyers and we will also of course need to talk to our colleagues at Lewisham Hospital in order to fully understand the implications of Mr Hunt's statement."

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