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New Clause 6 — Secretary of State’s response to a section 65 regulator’s report on an NHS foundation trust

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge 3:45 pm, 11th March 2014

It is with some trepidation that I must disagree with my right hon. Friend. In fact, the figure was closer to two thirds of the estate. The scheme was so well engineered that they left the bit that we were keeping, allegedly, for whatever was going to be there—a glorified first aid post—completely landlocked. There was no access apart from via the River Ravensbourne, which is not the mode of transport favoured by most people using Lewisham hospital. Oh yes, it was all worked out well beforehand.

The public meetings following the publication of the draft report were, of course, rather more difficult to control. People were able to ask questions, although they did not receive many answers. Those who were presenting the case on behalf of the trust special administrator did not seem particularly receptive to what was being said, although on occasion, when they came up against a difficult objection, they would say “South London Healthcare NHS Trust is losing £1 million a week: £1 million that is not being spent on health care for patients.” We know that—it is self-evident—but when they were told “That is not the problem of Lewisham hospital”, and asked “Can you not understand that?” , the answer was no, they could not understand it.

That was followed by a little homily of the kind much beloved of some people. “If your domestic budget was being overspent week after week, you would need to take action, would you not?” Naturally everyone agreed, but a woman who attended the public meeting at Sydenham school said to Mr Kershaw “If your domestic budget was being overspent, of course you would have to do something about it, but that would not include breaking into the house of the people next door and nicking all their stuff”—which is what was being proposed in south London by the special administrator.

After attending numerous meetings with Mr Kershaw and his associates, and at the other south London hospitals, I eventually concluded that—recognising that those who would be worst affected by their proposals were hardly likely to be very receptive to them—they automatically assumed that there would be opposition and hostility, and automatically factored in and discounted it, saying “Of course they are going to object to the changes, but we have a task and a mission to pursue.” The whole process was condescending, impenetrable and antagonistic. The special administrator and his acolytes and accomplices had a mission, given to them before they ever left Richmond House, which they were determined to deliver. They already knew the answer, and they were not going to bother to do anything other than go through the motions.

We owe thanks to Lewisham council, to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and, amazingly enough, to the High Court and the Appeal Court, whose three judges—Lords Justices Dyson, Underhill and Sullivan—within 24 hours unanimously overturned the Secretary of State’s case that he had the powers to do this. As I have said, the Secretary of State had already capitulated by then. The Government knew from the outset that this was legally questionable. They knew they did not have the powers to behave in the way they were behaving, but they basically just said, “Who’s going to stop us?” I will tell you who stopped them: the people of Lewisham and their supporters and the High Court. That is who stopped them.

This clause will make occurrences like that more, not less, likely. More communities across the country are going to be threatened and will come under the tender mercies of the TSA process.