Saturday 22 July 2017

SPECIAL FEATURE: Government's Charing Cross Hospital Demolition Shenanigans Exposed

At 3.44 p.m. on Friday 16 June 2017 the Guardian published this exposé: Most of Central London Hospital to be Sold Off, Plans Reveal. What ensued goes to the very heart of the dishonest approach the Conservative government has taken concerning its plan to demolish Charing Cross Hospital and replace it with a small clinic, and close its A&E and replace that with an Urgent Care Clinic - which it admits it proposes to do after 2021.

Within an hour of the story going online, the Department of Health had got onto the Guardian to tell them the they'd got it wrong. They encouraged the story to be pulled from the next day's newspaper and insisted that The Guardian added this paragraph to their online article:

“The proposals in question are exactly that - proposals – and no final decisions have been made. As with all such cases across the NHS, decisions will be made after a public consultation and must have the full support of local doctors in order to secure the best outcomes for patients.”

However, that statement from the Department of Health was not true. By Monday 19 June, they came clean and admitted that.

Indeed, they even asked for the paragraph they'd wanted inserted 3 days earlier to be removed from the on-line story. The Guardian did as they asked but added a new paragraph stating that the Department of Health has now "confirmed that these plans [correctly reported in their original story] were consulted on and agreed in 2012/13, so the reconfiguration of those services is underway".

That episode is typical of the consistently underhand approach the Conservative government has taken in its determination to stop the public having a full understanding of what they actually plan to do to Charing Cross Hospital.

The government's "reconfiguration of those services" is the ironically titled Shaping a Healthier Future plan for North West London. That was signed off by Jeremy Hunt MP (Con), the Secretary of State for Health, in 2013 and details how they will:
  • Demolish the current Charing Cross Hospital
  • Sell off most the Charing Cross Hospital site 
  • Replace the current hospital with a series of clinics on a site no more than 13% the size of the current hospital
  • Re-brand the clinics as a “local hospital” 
  • Replace the current A&E with an Urgent Care Clinic
  • Re-brand the Urgent Care Clinic a "Class 3 A&E
  • Lose more than 300 and possibly all the acute care beds 
Anyone viewing the government's Shaping a Healthier Future website will find it hard to see any of this detail. Instead, the language is rich in disingenuous double-speak.

For example, that website explains the closure of four hospitals in North West London by saying “the existing nine hospitals will be transformed into five major acute hospitals”. In the case of Charing Cross Hospital, their use of the word “transformed” means demolished.

In that same spirit on 27 March 2017, two government heath bureaucrats wrote to me and asserted "there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital".  The complaint was from Dr Tracey Batten, the highly paid Chief Executive of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Clare Parker, the Chief Officer for North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups.

I wrote back to them pointing out that they are "playing fast and loose with the English language". For example, when they wrote “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital” their case "appears to rely on the fact that they are planning to name the new clinic, that [they’re] planning to open, a 'local hospital'”. You can read my letter in full here.

We viewed Tracey Batten and Claire Parker's letter as a deliberate attempt to gag Hammersmith & Fulham Council from informing our residents about what is proposed for Charing Cross Hospital.

They followed their letter up with a statement controversially given to PR Week during the recent general and council by-elections which included an intimidating threat that they will "take it to the next level".

Our local Conservative councillors have long been at the front of all these attempts to mislead the public on the future of Charing Cross Hospital. In 2013, when they ran the council they left the cross-party campaign to save the hospital and then spent public money to falsely claim they had already "saved" Charing Cross and "retained" its A&E after they and government health chiefs came up with the ruse to re-brand the new small clinic a "local hospital".

wrongly claiming
Charing Cross
They're still doing that now. On 5 April 2017, I received an email from David Morton just after he had been selected as one of the three Labour council candidates for Avonmore & Brook Green. He wrote that "at 7:30 pm last night I received an unexpected visit to my home from Cllr Joe Carlebach. [Con]" and reported that Joe Carlebach had told him "he was prompting the NHS to take legal action against us for claiming that there was an intention to close Charing X hospital."

wrongly claiming
A&E 'retained'
Cllr Joe Carlebach is the borough's current leader of the Conservative opposition but at the time he was the chair of the Hammersmith Conservative Association with responsibility for all election material they put out during the recent general and local elections.

Hammersmith Conservatives printed and delivered a variety of election material claiming that those reporting that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are under threat are lying. They even re-printed Tracey Batten and Clare Parker's letter and delivered it across Hammersmith repeating the line that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital”.

Meanwhile, in the south of the borough, Greg Hands (Con) the MP for Chelsea & Fulham also repeated the nonsense that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are not under threat while accusing both the Council and Labour candidates of "falsehoods" for pointing out all of the details listed in the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

As recently as last Wednesday night's Full Council Meeting, Conservative councillors were dismissively yelling out that the closure of Charing Cross Hospital is a lie. Their deputy leader joining in such heckling just moments after he and his colleagues had indicated they may want to change their public position following the recent election results - having realised Hammersmith & Fulham's residents had not been taken in by their shenanigans and were punishing them at the ballot box.

Carlebach and Hands both fully understand what the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan will mean for the current Charing Cross Hospital. They have simply been sticking to the Conservatives' long-standing line. The same line that on 7 September 2014 had The Mail on Sunday attack David Cameron in this article. They reported how "days before council elections in May, the Prime Minister visited Hammersmith in London and stated that Charing Cross Hospital in nearby Fulham ‘will retain its A&E and services’... But the organisation that runs the hospital intends to close the department and replace it with an ‘urgent care centre’, NHS papers show".

I have been formally reviewing the issues around the closure of Charing Cross Hospital since they first began to unfold around 2011 as I was a member of the borough’s Housing, Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee between 2010 and 2014.

That committee had a statutory duty to scrutinise all matters to do with public health in our borough. If any reader puts "Charing Cross Hospital" into the search bar of this website they can read the many reports I've made as this issue has unfolded.

After being elected as the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 2014, I believed it was important to cut through all the misleading information being put into the public realm by the government, health bureaucrats and local Conservative councillors. I asked the eminent Michael Mansfield QC to chair a public inquiry into the the Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

Along with Ealing, Hounslow, Brent and Harrow councils, we funded the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London.

The commissioners were Michael Mansfield QC (Chair), Dr Stephen Hirst, and Dr John Lister. It was advised by health experts Roger Steer and Seán Boyle. The Mansfield Commission (as it also became known) was run like a court and was supported by Katy Rensten (counsel to the Commission), and Marcia Willis Stewart (Birnberg Peirce, solicitors to the Commission). It carried out extensive public hearings across North West London. Its key findings were:
  • There is no completed, up-to-date business plan in place that sets out the case for delivering the Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF) programme, demonstrating that the programme is affordable and deliverable. 
  • There was limited and inadequate public consultation on the SaHF proposals and those proposals themselves did not provide an accurate view of the costs and risks to the people affected. 
  • The escalating cost of the programme does not represent value for money and is a waste of precious public resources. 
  • NHS facilities, delivering important public healthcare services, have been closed without adequate alternative provision being put in place. 
  • The original business case seriously underestimated the increasing size of the population in North West London and fails to address the increasing need for services.
You can read the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London report in full by clicking here. Its main recommendations remain:
  1. The Shaping a Healthier Future programme needs to be halted. 
  2. Local authorities should consider seeking a judicial review of the decision to implement the programme if it is not halted.
The Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London indicated that the government would find it impossible to stick to its original schedule for closing Charing Cross Hospital. Indeed, the people charged with closing the hospital have not even met any of the half dozen or so deadlines they had set themselves for publishing their business plan. So now they have delayed the closure of Charing Cross Hospital until after 2021 and are scrambling to meet the demand they failed to predict - just as lots of people told them they would.

Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing councils resisted the attempt to sucker us into helping them plan their NHS cuts by refusing to sign up to the government's new Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) - which was little more than a re-packaging of their failing Shaping a Healthier Future plan. That was despite the (what turned out to be a completely false) threat that they'd damage our adult social care budget if we didn't.

Along with Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, we commissioned Roger Steer, Dr John Lister and Seán Boyle to do a further review which was titled Health and Social Care in North West London which you can read here

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan has also proposed that Ealing Hospital will close. It is being valiantly defended by Ealing Council - with Conservative councillors taking a similarly cynical approach there as they do in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Since winning control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council my fellow Labour councillors and I have re-engineered services and are cutting and re-assigning £63 million of wasteful council spending. So we're all for modernising services and saving money in any public institution. 

My fellow Labour councillors and I agree that there needs to be much greater coordination between councils delivering adult social care and hospitals discharging people back into their homes. That's one of the reasons why Hammersmith & Fulham Labour are the only council administration in the country to abolish charges to our residents for adult social care. But what the government are doing to our local hospital is ill-conceived and wrong. I have been consistently setting out that case such as here in this video:

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is the body responsible for public health in the borough. My fellow Labour councillors and I, along with our officials and advisers, have consistently sought assurances from the people behind the Shaping a Healthier Future plan to work with us to change it in light of the considerable amount of evidence we have presented that says they should. But they have repeatedly refused to do that.

Instead they hired a Conservative government spin doctor and a high profile advertising agency to re-engineer the English language so it misleads the public about what exactly it is they propose to do to our local NHS services.

The Conservative government's approach to the NHS that underlies Shaping a Healthier Future is thoroughly ideological. 

Hammersmith & Fulham's Labour administration will continue to defend Charing Cross Hospital and work with others to protect our NHS. We have hired some of the best advisers and lawyers to help us do exactly that.

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan is deeply flawed. We cannot see how the government can move forward with it without putting lives at risk.

When the people charged with delivering this for the government recognise the very real need for Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals and change their approach, they will find the door is still open for them to work with us to help them make that change.

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