Top barrister says if NW London NHS cuts go ahead it will be death knell for healthcare in rest of country
By Bernard Purcell and Adam Shaw
The top barrister appointed last year to lead an inquiry into the London North West Healthcare NHS Trust after official statistics showed patients waiting to be seen at the Trust’s casualty units at Northwick Park and Ealing had some of the longest waits in the country has published damning findings.
Michael Mansfield QC, who made his reputation helping overturn miscarriages of justice in cases like the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, among many others, described proposed changes to the area’s hospitals as “deeply flawed”.
The report published by the commission, chaired by Mr. Mansfield, says the Trust’s plans should be halted immediately since they are a threat to the fundamental principles of a universal NHS. The Shaping a Healthier Future (SAHF) programme has already led to the closure of the A&E departments at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals, and the closure of Ealing hospital’s maternity ward.
It is planning further downgrades at Ealing, along with vast closures and sales at Charing Cross hospital – a proposition Mr. Mansfield finds unacceptable.
He said: “The findings of the commission are stark – the reforms, both proposed and implemented thus far, are deeply flawed.
“There is no realistic prospect of achieving good quality accessible healthcare for all, and any further implementation is likely to exacerbate a deteriorating situation.”
Though the report focuses on the impact of closures on northwest London, Mr. Mansfield said it is relevant to the rest of the country.
“In so many ways, the catalogue of failings, missed opportunities and profligacy we have seen in northwest London act as a microcosm of a wider malaise across the English NHS,” he said.
“As such, it should act as a warning call to the top of government.”
Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, immediately supported the findings and said he sup- ported the recommendations of the commission.
The report was also backed by Councillor Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who called it a “watershed moment”.
“People across west London have been horrified to see their treasured NHS deteriorating so quickly – and so unnecessarily,” he said.
“This review provides indisputable evidence that these changes to local health services are badly planned, hugely costly and causing life-threatening failures in local healthcare.
“The only sane decision is to put a halt to them right now.”
The commission calls for a reversal of the decision to close Ealing’s maternity ward and says Central Middlesex’s A&E department should be re-opened.
It also stresses the need for serious investment into emergency, GP and out-of- hospital services, believing them to be overwhelmed and inconsistent – a problem made increasingly worse by the ever-growing population of northwest London.
Mr. Mansfield says that the crisis is so serious that local authorities in the region should consider launching a legal challenge if a decision is taken to continue with the programme.
The investigation was commissioned by the Leader of Brent Council Cllr Muhammed Butt and the boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing, and Hounslow last year after the NHS’s own figures revealed just 67.8 per cent of A&E patients at Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals were seen within four hours. The government’s own target is 95 per cent.
At the time Cllr Butt said: “Brent residents now face the longest A&E waiting times in the country and immediate action needs to be taken to resolve this situation as we are talking about life and death emergency treatment.
“We will support the Independent Commission, West Londoners deserve the best healthcare and this joint review will be vital in shining a light on what has gone on with these botched A&E closures.”
A spokesman for the Shaping A Healthier Future programme said: “The changes being made in north-west London are not made lightly and are the result of significant public consultation, extensive planning and an in-depth assurance process. As such we welcome any constructive input that will help residents further.”