Opposition mounts against London hospital proposals

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Indy Politics
LABOUR and Liberal Democrat leaders demanded a moratorium on the closure of beds in London teaching hospitals until more than pounds 400m had been invested in improvements in GP services.

The two main opposition parties, in separate reports, rejected the main finding of Sir Bernard Tomlinson's review that London had too many hospital beds. They accused him of failing to carry out a proper audit of health care in the capital, and warned more closures would spread to the NHS in the rest of Britain as the internal market begins to bite.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, who is expected to make a statement next week, is planning to phase the closures over a number of years to avoid encountering the level of protests that confronted Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, over the proposed pit closures.

Ian McCartney, a Labour health spokesman, said NHS staff would fight the Tomlinson closures. He said: 'Going round the hospitals for our own commission, it was clear they won't sit back and allow their establishments to be closed or shotgun marriages to take place . . .'

However, in spite of their joint opposition, the two parties are not planning a united campaign.

Committing Labour to campaign against the closures, David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, called for a minimum of pounds 400m to be invested over five years in primary care in the capital. The Liberal Democrats called for implementation of their election commitment for an extra pounds 5bn to be invested nationally in primary care over five years.

'The Government is planning to achieve bed reductions and hospital closures by stealth, rather than by an honest and open frontal attack,' Mr Blunkett said.

'With the issue of the miners and continuing mass redundancies at the forefront of people's minds, the Cabinet decision has been taken to instruct Virginia Bottomley to soft-pedal on the long-term agenda and to adopt methods which will allow those aims to be achieved by the haemorrhaging of resources.'

Labour's health team carried out 39 NHS visits in London and found that the majority of patients were from the local catchment areas, casting doubt on the Tomlinson recommendation that funds should flow with patients back to the suburban hospitals.

Brian Mawhinney, the Health Minister, who has also carried out exhaustive visits, found many patients could have been treated by their family doctors. But both Labour and the Liberal Democrats said no bed closures should take place until the primary care facilities were improved.

They called for both the public and health staff to be consulted before any action. Demanding the suspension of the NHS internal market, Mr Blunkett said the Tomlinson conclusions had been set by the terms of reference.