The proposed 'changes' to the Charing Cross hospital should concern us all

It is a triumph for dogma and doublespeak that would leave George Orwell despairing
  • @stefanohat

This week I broke one of my own rules. In frustration, I got involved in a public Twitter spat with a politician over what is ostensibly a local issue, but of course isn’t: proposed “changes” to the renowned 200 year-old Charing Cross Hospital in west London My local, but it could be yours.

Why isn’t this “just” a local issue? Because the same economy with the truth, duplicity, shameless obfuscation in pursuit of votes, putting financial gain first, brazen disregard for the local community and above all, doublespeak, everywhere doublespeak, that is the hallmark of this sorry saga is ubiquitous.

Before the May local elections, our Prime Minister  visited Hammersmith and Fulham – then a flagship Conservative councils – to court voters. He attacked the local MP, Andy Slaughter, for doing exactly what a local MP should be doing: campaigning on behalf of his constituents, and trying to highlight the threat to the local NHS service which lurked within plans to close A&E at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals on September 10 and … well, what exactly at Charing Cross? No-one really knew because of an endless economy with the truth via leaflets dripping with doublespeak.

The PM was unequivocal: “Andy Slaughter is not giving the true facts. Charing Cross will retain its A&E and services, it will still be a very good hospital with a fantastic cancer care unit.”

Last week, those “facts” were announced. The hospital is to be demolished; more than half the land sold off for development; A&E, neurosurgery, stroke and urology services will move; and the rebuilt hospital will see inpatient bed numbers fall from 360 to 24 (!). Some services will transfer to far-off St Mary’s, Paddington – which is already operating at “maximum utilisation”.

However, it’s happy days for residents, according to Imperial College Healthcare Trust, because the redevelopment will make “better use of the estate”:

"There is no proposal to close our A&E at Charing Cross Hospital.” (A&E is being “changed” not closed, people). “We are awaiting further guidance from NHS England to guide the development of emergency services appropriate for a local hospital."

Hmm “guidance to guide”! So, they know they’re selling the land, they know they’re shifting services to St Mary’s, they know the redevelopment will slash bed numbers to less than a tenth of today’s, but they still don’t know / won’t say in this pre-General Election year what future emergency services are “appropriate for a local hospital.”

Crucially, nowhere in the full statement is there a pledge to retain Charing Cross A&E services to a level that any local resident might understand to be the meaning of that phrase.

Before the election we didn’t know the half of it. But the greater the obfuscation, the more we see its purpose. In a May surprise, much to its shock, that flagship Conservative council was voted out of office  because voters did not trust its motivation and plans for the local NHS.

But it’s too late for the hospitals, too late for the community. All this will go ahead without public consultation, and despite 100,000 signatures opposing the plans. It is a triumph for dogma and doublespeak that would leave George Orwell despairing. And, if it can happen in West London, it can happen near you.