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Emily Brothers Attacks Paul Burstow for Contriving to Close Hospitals Like St Helier

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Lib Dem MP for Sutton and Cheam, Paul Burstow, was attacked by his Labour opponent, Emily Brothers, last night for supporting a Government proposal to secure greater powers for closing hospitals.
Clause 119 of the Care Bill gives the Health Secretary sweeping powers to make changes at successful hospitals, by extending the powers of the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) to make recommendations affecting Trusts outside of the failing Trust to which it has been appointed. Responding to last night’s Commons debate, Ms Brothers said:
“Given the financial pressures on many NHS organisations like ST Helier Hospital, the TSA process is likely to be used on an increasing basis in the future, raising the prospect of the Health Secretary forcing hospital closures over the heads of local communities, having a detrimental impact on places like Sutton and Cheam.
“Instead of standing up for local people and doctors, Mr Burstow has contrived with the Government to centralise power, taking it away from residents and commissioners in Sutton and Cheam.
“There is sometimes a need to make changes to local services, but the TSA route is a spectacularly wrong solution to a very real problem.”
Last year the High Court ruled that the Coalition Government did not have the power under existing legislation to implement major changes at Lewisham hospital, on the recommendation of the TSA at the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust. In light of this, Ms Brothers said:
“The TSA recommendations for Lewisham have stark similarities to the BSBV plan for closing services at ST Helier Hospital.
“Mr Burstow has aided the Government to overcome the High Court’s ruling, allowing for the imposition of service configuration and closures here in Sutton and Cheam.
“The down-grading or closure of ST Helier Hospital will now be so much easier, due to Mr Burstow contriving to take power from local people and commissioners.”
Ms Brothers explained that the TSA process was never intended to deal with wide-scale reconfigurations. She said:
“It should not be used as a back-door way to achieve unpopular changes, as this will risk setting back the possibility of achieving consensus on necessary changes to services; the early experience of the TSA process in Lewisham and Stafford is that it damages trust in how the NHS handles change and makes it even less likely to get public support for difficult decisions.”
Yesterday, Mr Burstow tabled an amendment to ameliorate Clause 119 by ensuring local commissioners in the non-failing areas have a veto over any decisions affecting their trust. Ms Brothers says:
“This was not a perfect solution, but would have been an improvement on the Government’s position.
“Yet I was further dismayed by Mr Burstow withdrawing the amendment upon the Minister asking him to Chair a group tasked with developing guidance to implement the hospital closure clause – shaping the devil in the detail.”

Plans for changes to health services normally require lengthy public consultation and backing from local doctors before they can be agreed. However, if the trust becomes financially unsustainable a special administrator can be appointed to draw up a fast-track plan for reorganisation, with only brief consultation. This has to be signed off by the health secretary.
The court of appeal ruled in October 2013 that the health secretary had acted beyond his authority in taking such steps with Lewisham Hospital due to the failure of South London Trust. Clause 119 of the Care Bill is designed to get round this - so if a trust is put in the hands of a special administrator, it can recommend changes across the whole region. Any TSA that takes over any failing NHS trusts in England can push through whatever other local changes they think are necessary, although they will have to consult the public, commissioners and staff.
In the Commons last night, 297 MP’s voted in favour of Clause 119, while 239 voted against it.


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