Hospital watchdog to get the chop early

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Government is to scrap a group set up to implement the massive reorganisation of London's health services.

The London Implementation Group, set up in February 1993 by the Department of Health to oversee the changes proposed in the Tomlinson report, was due to continue until March 1996. But department officials now acknowledge the group will wind down early, possibly by next March.

According to the department, the merger of the four Thames regional health authorities into two - north and south Thames - will improve co-ordination, making the London Implementation Group unnecessary.

Labour's health spokesman, David Blunkett, said that the decison was made off the cuff and behind closed doors. 'Virginia Bottomley should in fact be announcing an immediate freeze on the closure of acute facilities in the capital and the establishment of an open and independent inquiry to assess all the evidence on London's health services.'

Ros Levenson, director of the Greater London Association of Community Health Councils, said that there was still a need for a strategic health planning body in London.

'People will cut a service in one health authority without thinking whether it will have a knock-on effect next door.'

Unison's London head of health, Godfrey Eastwood, was particularly concerned at the effect on the clearing house set up to provide jobs for staff made redundant by the closure of acute hospitals.

The health and local government union has always criticised the way the LIG operated behind closed doors, but Mr Eastwood admitted it was better than nothing and thought its demise made a strategic London health planning body even more important. 'Otherwise there is an inevitable danger of north Thames against south Thames, which would be a disaster,' he said.

But a spokesman for the Department of Health said: 'It is in no one's interest to have more bureaucracy than necessary. LIG's role has been to secure an agreement on the way forward. The direction for London is infinitely more clear than it was 18 months ago.'

Sir Bernard Tomlinson's report, published in October 1992, set in train a series of controversial reviews of London hospitals. These included the closure of Bart's Accident and Emergency Department and the merger of several others.

Since 1992 the Department also allocated pounds 120m to the development of inner city primary health care so that patients can be discharged from hospital sooner.