Hunt paves way for U-turn on casualty unit closures

 

Jeremy Hunt has ordered a fresh political assessment of controversial plans to shut hospital casualty units as one of his first acts as Health Secretary.

His move will raise hopes of a reprieve for a number of accident and emergency departments threatened with closure as NHS Trusts cast around for savings.

But it will alarm many doctors and hospital managers who argue that merging A&E units into larger, better staffed departments saves lives and frees up money to improve patient care in other areas.

Some in the service have privately accused Mr Hunt of preparing to “play politics” without fully understanding the complexities of his new job - which could ultimately harm patients.

The issue is coming to a head in London where seven units are at risk, including four in the north-west of the capital, while A&E departments in Manchester, Stafford and Worcestershire are also under threat.

Mr Hunt, who has been charged by the Prime Minister with drawing some of the political sting from the National Health Service, has told Tory colleagues he wants a new examination of all the proposals, which he would ultimately have to approve. A source close to him said: “There will be a new approach to this issue. Trusts still need to cut costs, but it doesn't have to be through closures.”

Ministers have been struck by the strength of opposition to plans, notably in north-west London, and fear they could ultimately pay a political price for decisions taken by hospital chiefs.

He is staying out of the controversies for the moment but an ally of Mr Hunt said intervening to save an A and E unit supported by local people would be an instance of the Government putting its commitment to localism into practice.

Under the plans for north-west London, the number of casualty departments would be reduced from nine to five. Thousands of protesters have marched against move to shut Ealing Hospital's A&E unit, warning the move would have a “catastrophic effect on patients”. Emergency departments at Hammersmith, Central Middlesex and Charing Cross hospitals have also been earmarked for closure.

Elsewhere in the capital, units at Chase Farm in Enfield, King George in Ilford and St Helier in Sutton are under threat. The former health minister Paul Burstow, who lost his job in this month's Government reshuffle, has described the plans to close the unit at St Helier, which is in his constituency, as “dangerous”. The King George closure has also been attacked by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

A source in the Department of Health said they were not aware of any political review taking place. However they confirmed that the ultimate decision for A&E closures would be taken by Mr Hunt after taking advice from an independent Reconfiguration Panel.

“You can assume that he will set the bar pretty high for approving closures,” said one source.

“But he will have to take into account not just the view of the community but also local medical professionals.”

Mr Hunt's dilemma is that while he was brought into the department by David Cameron to neutralize health as an election issue any decision to abandon A&E closures will make it much more difficult to achieve the necessary saving across the health service over the next three years.

This was underlined yesterday by a new report by the Audit Commission which showed an increasing number of NHS organisations are struggling with their finances with the number of trusts running a deficit more than doubling in a year.

The number of trusts which are running a deficit rose from 13 in 2010/11 to 31 in 2011/12. Thirty-nine NHS trusts reported a poorer financial position in 2011/12 than in the previous year and 18 NHS trusts and foundation trusts received financial support from the Department of Health.

Tellingly the greatest number of hospital trusts in financial difficulty were in outer London - the area where most of the A&E reconfigurations are due to take place.

Last night a Department of Health spokesperson said: “Changes to local health services are decided and led locally.

“Local healthcare organisations, doctors, nurses and other health professionals, with their knowledge of the patients they serve, are best placed to decide what services they need for patients in their area.”

Mike Farrar, chief executive of NHS Confederation, urged Mr Hunt not to intervene for political purposes.

“There are a number of proposed changes to NHS services that have proved controversial in recent years,” he said.

“The fact is changes to many local services are necessary, not only to allow the NHS to remain financially sustainable, but to improve the care patients receive.

“We understand the political sensitivities around change but we have to put the needs of patients first. We urge political courage in support of clinical decisions.”

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Rand...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering