Lewisham Hospital cuts ruling to be appealed against by the government

Demonstrators at the Royal Courts of Justice
Image caption Campaigners celebrated last month's High Court decision

The government is to appeal against a High Court ruling over a decision to cut services at a London hospital.

Last month Mr Justice Silber ruled the health secretary acted outside his powers when he announced casualty and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital would be downgraded.

He said Jeremy Hunt had breached provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006.

The government will now take the case to the Court of Appeal.

The judge ruled that Mr Hunt's decision was "unlawful" as he lacked power after being told the changes would mean local people having "to travel a long, long way further to get access to vital services".

Legal testing

The health secretary was attempting to deal with problems created by the financial collapse of neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which went into administration after it started losing more than £1m a week.

The ruling was a setback for Mr Hunt because the case involved the first legal testing of a new government procedure for dealing with failing NHS organisations - referred to as the Unsustainable Providers Regime.

Under the new regime, Mr Hunt had appointed a Trust Special Administrator (TSA) to the "very badly performing" South London Healthcare Trust.

To help deal with the problem, the special administrator recommended measures including cuts at Lewisham Hospital.

Mr Hunt told Parliament in January that A&E and maternity services at the hospital would be downgraded.

He assured MPs the changes would improve patient care in south London, saving up to 100 lives a year, but gave an undertaking not to implement them pending the legal challenge.

The challenge against the government was brought by Save Lewisham Hospital and the London Borough of Lewisham.

Tony O'Sullivan, from the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, said: "We are disappointed by the Secretary of State's decision to launch an appeal.

"However, we are confident that the strength of our case will be upheld at appeal."

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