Election 2017: Labour promises to stop NHS hospital closures at once if they win

One in six A&E departments face being closed or downgraded in next four years

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 03 May 2017 08:16 BST
Conservatives have dismissed the vow as ‘another nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea’
Conservatives have dismissed the vow as ‘another nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea’ (PA)

Labour has promised to stop A&E and other hospital department closures at once if they are elected, saying the Conservative proposals have caused “widespread concern and confusion”.

Plans to reform NHS services, drawn up in 44 areas of England, are designed to save money and improve efficiency but have proved unpopular in some regions as they involve ward closures and cuts in bed numbers.

Jonathan Ashworth said he will halt the controversial Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) programme and launch a full review into the changes if Labour wins on 8 June.

The shadow health secretary said it was a “disgrace” that decisions on the future of hospitals are being made “behind closed doors with no genuine involvement of local people”, as “the public deserves better.”

“We have listened to the hundreds of patients and campaigners up and down the country that have been pleading with the Government to hear their concerns about their local services,” he said.

“Threats of hospitals being closed, A&E services moved miles up the road, and children's wards being shut, have caused widespread concern and confusion.”

A recent analysis of the proposals found that one in six A&E departments face being closed or downgraded in the next four years.

Philip Hammond claims the Tories are 'the party of the NHS' during Budget 2017

In March’s Budget, Philip Hammond announced a £325m funding boost for STPs, saying: “We are the party of the NHS”.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) warned this funding fell short of what was needed to deliver the programme, while health campaigners called the plans “sneaky” due to a lack of clarity over structures and accountability.

“Local people should be at the heart of decisions about how care is provided,” said Mr Ashworth. “My first job as secretary of state will be to review every single STP proposal looking at what's in the interest of quality of patient care.”

Labour said it will create a new body called NHS Excellence to lead the review into the major changes to local health services proposed by the plans, which are being devised in an attempt to plug a £22bn hole in NHS budgets by 2021.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt dismissed Mr Ashworth’s promise as “just another nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea”.

He said: “These local plans are developed by local doctors and communities, backed by the top doctors and nurses of the NHS, and will improve patient care.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: ”The purpose of the STP process was a good thing – to bring fragmented parts of the system together.

“But it is based on the fantasy that there is enough money to deliver this vision, when STPs will be hundreds of millions of pounds short.

“The real question is: which party is prepared to take the tough action to increase investment? Only the Lib Dems will make the case for increasing tax to guarantee the future of the NHS.”

Mr Ashworth was also questioned on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme over whether a Labour government would use nuclear weapons in retaliation or in a pre-emptive strike – a question Diane Abbott refused to answer yesterday.

“The responsible thing in this situation is to not speculate about hypotheticals,” he said.

“I am giving you the reassurance that we are prepared to use our nuclear weapons, of course we are. We will never compromise on the safety of this country, we will do what is necessary.”

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