Letter: Flagship hospital of the new NHS

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The Independent Online
Sir: Ian Donnachie (letter, 1 February) attempts to justify the last- minute cuts in the proposed services of the new Westminster & Chelsea Hospital, implying that they are part of a long-term plan. If this is the case then one wonders why the 'consultation document' was only published on 19 January; the token period of discussion is only three weeks, and the plans will almost certainly be implemented within months.

They were a complete shock to most clinicians, and if indeed they were part of a 'masterplan' those who have to deliver patient care should have been involved far earlier, if patients are not to suffer.

Most of us agree that London's healthcare needs radically reshaping, but this must be a gradual and planned process. Services must not be destroyed and patient care disrupted until there are better alternatives. Departments with recognised excellence and expertise should not be summarily destroyed in an attempt to balance the short-term books, to prepare the hospital for trust status.

The new Westminster & Chelsea Hospital opened as a flagship of the Government's new NHS. It is indeed a ship that bears all the characteristics of the new order. It was built at unprecedented speed, at great cost, but with inadequate consultation and planning, and now drifts rudderless on a sea of discontent.

It is situated only a mile from Charing Cross Hospital, jeopardising that hospital's future, on a site that would have been far better sold for commercial use. Access by public transport, or ambulance, is extremely difficult.

It is sad that the new hospital should open under such a cloud, particularly when its excessive cost has necessitated the closure of small appropriate units in outer London, of the sort that should be being encouraged in new plans for healthcare.

The new institution is very much a microcosm of the new NHS; it is an exciting building, and offers a real challenge to continue and develop excellence in healthcare. But, with management and staff bitter and divided, it is patient care that will suffer. I very much hope that I am wrong, and that the whole project will not turn out to be one of the larger white elephants on the Fulham Road, but I am not optimistic that this will be the case.

Yours faithfully,

ELIZABETH TAYLER

Junior Doctors Mess President

Westminster & Chelsea Hospital

London, SW1

1 February

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