Hunt seeks the right to close hospitals without consulting patients By Charles West

15 January 2014 — Our NHS

Jeremy Hunt is about to render Clinical Commissioning Groups impotent and unable to serve their patients needs.

In the law of the jungle we see nature red in tooth and claw. Dog eats dog, might is right, competition is king and the playground bully rules the roost.

In a civilised society, however we have different values. We believe that everyone should have food in their belly, a roof over their heads, education and healthcare. In a civilised society we recognise that it is in all our interests to identify and treat sick patients. It is neither in the interests of the individual nor of society that patients wander round coughing tubercle bacillus all over the other passengers in the bus.

A civilised society provides healthcare for individuals and for communities. 

For fifty years the British NHS provided one the most effective, efficient and comprehensive healthcare systems in the world. 

Health Authorities and more recently Primary Care Trusts had the responsibility for providing care for all those who lived in a particular locality. The system combined healthcare for individuals, delivered by NHS bodies, and healthcare for communities, with expertise from Public Health experts in epidemiology and community medicine. 

The system was dealt a severe blow by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act 2012. It is now about to be attacked again.

In the post-Lansley NHS the Secretary of State no longer has the duty to provide a comprehensive health service. Such responsibility as remains has been handed to the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). CCGs do not have a responsibility for everyone in the neighbourhood – there is no universal state responsibility to provide us with healthcare any more – but they do at least have the responsibility for commissioning the care needed by their own registered patients.

The CCGs are about to be undermined.

When Jeremy Hunt, the current Secretary of State for Health called in a special administrator to the South London Healthcare Trust he hoped that he would be able to put off their financial collapse at least until he was no longer the Secretary of State. The Administrator came up with the plan to close services at neighbouring Lewisham Hospital and transfer them – and the money that went with them – to shore up the shaky finances at South London. Not surprisingly patients and doctors at Lewisham objected. The CCG in Lewisham believed that it was in their patients’ interests to continue the services at Lewisham Hospital. The courts supported them.

Jeremy Hunt’s response has been to attempt to change the law. He has added a clause to a Care Bill already before Parliament. If this clause is passed, then Trust Special Administrators will have the power to reconfigure – ie, close – healthcare services not only at the NHS Hospital Trust that they have been called in to sort out, but at any other healthcare facilities in the neighbourhood. And they will be able to do so without real public consultation (just one meeting will suffice).

If the clause is passed Trust Special Administrators will be able to take services away from hospitals that are currently running perfectly well, that are serving their neighbourhoods and are in a strong financial position.

As almost half the hospital trusts in the country are facing financial difficulties, we must assume that every hospital in the country could find itself under the scrutiny of a Trust Special Administrator, either due to its own struggles or those of its neighbour.

If services are moved around to suit the financial convenience of these Administrators it will become quite impossible for Clinical Commissioning Groups to decide what services they wish to commission and from where these services should be delivered. 

The CCGs will be impotent. They will not be able to serve their patients’ needs.

We shall see whether Jeremy Hunt gets his way. If clause 118 of the Care Bill is allowed to pass we shall see the short term financial needs of bankrupt hospitals destroy any attempt by CCGs to plan a coherent set of services for their patients.

There is a campaign mounting against Clause 118 as it approaches the crucial committee and report stage in late January / early February. OurNHS openDemocracy has gathered together the key actions people can take, here.

About the author

Dr Charles West has been a GP for over 25 years, as well as a health service manager, and was a Liberal Democrat candidate for parliament in the 2010 election.

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