Bottomley fears delays on closures

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CLOSURES of London hospitals could cause a 'spiral of decline' if they are delayed, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday at a meeting of the Commons Select Committee on Health.

Mrs Bottomley said the restructuring of London's health services, following the report by Sir Bernard Tomlinson, would be carried out over three to six years. But she added: 'I am concerned about the spiral of decline.' She said there would come a time when the uncertainty over the future of hospitals would affect the morale of staff.

A total of pounds 50m will be withdrawn from the London hospitals this year as part of the internal market in the NHS, which is shifting resources to the suburbs, where most patients live. That shift of population motivated the review of London hospitals.

Brian Mawhinney, the Minister of State for Health, said: 'It will be considerably more than that in the next financial year. You cannot run a health service on that basis in the medium to long term. It is in no one's interest that you are artificially prolonging the managed change.'

The ministers' evidence to the committee will be seen as an admission that the Tomlinson report could blight London health care, if the momentum for closures is not maintained.

'One of the comments we have seen is the view repeated time and again that decisions must be taken, that the nettle must be grasped,' Mrs Bottomley said.

The reviews of the future of specialist units contained in the London teaching hospitals had to be kept on a 'tight timetable', she added.

St Mark's hospital could be among the first to be closed, she added. It is seeking a merger with Northwick Park.