Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gains powers to shut good hospitals without consultation

A Labour attempt to prevent the move was defeated by 297 votes to 239

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to acquire sweeping powers to shut down local hospitals at short notice even if they are performing strongly.

The Government tonight thwarted an attempt by Labour and rebel Coalition MPs to block the move.

The controversy centres on a provision in the Care Bill which allows a hospital to be closed or scaled back if a neighbouring trust develops serious financial problems.

The power was added to the Bill after the High Court ruled in October that Mr Hunt had exceeded his powers when he decided emergency and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital, south-east London, should be cut to save a neighbouring trust which was going bust.

A Labour attempt to prevent the move was defeated by 297 to 239 votes, a majority for the Coalition of 58. Six Tories rebelled on the issue. The Opposition argues that the proposal amounts to more “top-down control” of the National Health Service following its reorganisation of 2011.

But ministers counter that the moves are in the interests of patients as they boost care standards across broad areas.

In fractious exchanges, Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, compared Mr Hunt to a burglar “changing the law to get his way”.

And he claimed the plans could result in an otherwise good hospital shutting because of its proximity to a failing one, with patients and staff powerless to resist the closures. “Hospital closures should be determined by clinical reasons, not financial ones,” Mr Burnham told MPs.

Labour claims that more than 30 cash-strapped trusts could be at risk if it was made easier to rationalise services across wide geographical areas. But the health minister, Daniel Poulter, derided Mr Burnham as a specialist in spin and pointed to his own career as a GP as proof of his good intentions. He said: “Mr Burnham is good at playing politics, he’s good at spin. I’m a doctor and I will always do what I believe is in the best interests of patients.”

The moves will give Trust Special Administrators, appointed by the Health Secretary, the power to shut or downgrade any hospital or A&E departments at 40 days’ notice. Critics included Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, who tabled an amendment to guarantee consultation rights for residents and give doctors who commission services a veto over any reorganisation.

His amendment was defeated by 288 to 241 votes, a majority of 47, after it was pushed to a vote in the Commons by Labour. It was backed by seven Conservative rebels, although Mr Burstow himself did not support it in the end. He was appointed to chair a committee of MPs and peers overseeing the changes.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

    £40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

    Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?