Closing hospitals saves lives, the Government will claim today. Campaigns to keep local accident and emergency departments and small specialist units open may cost more than 1,000 unnecessary deaths a year, according to a report.

The Government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, and the national clinical Director for emergency care, Sir George Alberti, will argue at a meeting attended by Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, that concentrating services in fewer, larger hospitals will mean longer travelling time for patients but safer care once they get there.

Today's meeting marks the start of a government fightback against claims that hospital closures will damage patient care. David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, has said that up to 60 hospitals could be closed or have services transferred elsewhere.

Professor Roger Boyle, the national director for heart disease, will join Professor Alberti to argue that cutting back on local heart and stroke services and sending patients to bigger, better specialist units would save hundreds of lives.

Their reports are the first of a series ordered by Ms Hewitt setting out the clinical evidence for "reconfiguring" services in the NHS (bureaucratese for closures). Ministers are afraid that local campaigns to save hospitals could derail NHS reform plans and cause political upsets such as that in Kidderminster, where a local doctor was elected on a save-our-hospital ticket.

In a report published today, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says 61,000 heart attack victims are treated each year in local hospitals but only 1,600 received emergency care in specialist units last year, which has been proved to save lives. The report says if every heart attack victim had access to specialist techniques, about 500 extra lives could be saved each year, 1,000 repeat heart attacks avoided and there would be 250 fewer strokes.

Richard Brooks, IPPR associate director, said: "If heart attack victims were taken past their local hospital to a specialist centre they would be significantly more likely to survive. On the strength of the evidence, people should be out on the streets campaigning for changes to NHS services to protect the health of their families, not to keep services the way they are."

International evidence shows people severely injured in accidents are more likely to survive if they are treated in specialist centres than in local hospitals, even if they are further away.

The Royal College of Surgeons estimates that if a network of specialist trauma centres were established, about 770 extra lives would be saved each year.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Government's arguments were very similar to those presented in the IPPR report. She said: "This is about people going to the best place, not the one round the corner, because the long-term outlook is better. We want to move on from the brouhaha about closures to set out the clinical case for delivering things in different ways."

About 10,000 patients suffer severe injuries in the UK each year, but they account for just one in every thousand emergency cases admitted by hospitals.

The British Medical Association said evidence was vital to counter proposals for cuts driven by financial problems in the NHS. Without it, "there is a real risk that decisions on reconfiguration will be based on what suits politicians and accountants rather than ... patients".

Comments