Tories rebel at hospital closures

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The Independent Online
Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, came under unprecedented attack from senior Tories yesterday as she avoided making a Commons statement on a string of London hospital closures which finally signed the death sentence for Bart's in the City.

The same announcement, in a Commons written answer, consigned Guy's, once the flagship of the National Health Service changes, to becoming a peripheral part of St Thomas's, its £140m state-of-the-art Sir Philip Harris House south of the Thames turned largely into a white elephant.

Mrs Bottomley was accused in the Commons of cowardice by Peter Brooke, a former Cabinet colleague; of "political ineptness" by Roger Sims, a senior backbencher; while Sir John Gorst and Sir Rhodes Boyson, two London MPs, warned that the Government could no longer count on their support in divisions on any health matter concerning the capital.

Labour was last night manoeuvring to seek a vote on the closures in which the Government could face a serious rebellion. The issue will be raised in Easter adjournment debates today.

Mrs Bottomley's position was further undermined by John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales, who told the Welsh Grand Committee that local hospitals remained "cherished institutions" and he opposed the "passion for re-organising".

Mrs Bottomley's decisions affect nine London hospitals, and involve the closure of the Brook and Greenwich District general hospitals, an end to kidney transplants at Dulwich, the closure of accident and emergency and in-patient services at Edgware General, confirmation that most of Bart's services would go to the London, and that Guy's will be restricted to minor injuries, day and out-patients, mental health and academic units. The Queen Elizabeth military hospital is to be developed as the new NHS hospital for Greenwich. The changes involve capital investment of £400m and a £210m investment in primary care.

MPs were threatening a further legal challenge over Bart's last night after Mr Brooke, whose constituency is served by it, told Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker: "The next time a Secretary of State closes a hospital that is nearly 900 years old, the Secretary of State should have the moral courage to come to the Despatch Box."

Equally bitter protests came from Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, as Mrs Bottomley's only concession to a one-million-plus petition and campaign to save Guy's is that its accident and emergency department will not close until December 1998.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey, who has led a cross- party campaign for Guy's, said the hospital's only chance now was a general election and Labour's pledge of a moratorium on hospital and bed closures in London, or a change of heart by the Guy's and St Thomas's Trust.

Mrs Bottomley's supporters were doing the rounds of the lobbies last night attempting to repair the damage. They rejected the charge of cowardice, saying people had been demanding decisions on London for years, and "It takes a great deal of courage to do these things."

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