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The thing that really sticks in my throat about the proposals to shut Lewisham’s A and E and maternity departments is that they are fundamentally driven by money. If we start by saying that a process is being set up to sort out the financial woes of part of the NHS, how can people ever have any confidence that the clinical input and so-called clinical evidence that come later have not just been moulded to suit the accountants’ bottom line, which was there from the off?
I appreciate that there are financial pressures in the NHS, and I accept that it cannot be preserved in aspic for ever. For example, I support the recent changes to the way in which emergency care in London is provided for major trauma, heart attacks and stroke. However, where is the evidence that the changes on the table will result in more lives being saved and better health care overall?
That brings me to my second main point: the changes are not only unwanted and unfair but unsafe. It is proposed to replace the A and E at Lewisham with an urgent care centre. Initially, the special administrator told us that the centre would see 77% of the people who currently go to the A and E. In his final report, that was revised down to 50%. Based on an analysis of their case load, doctors at Lewisham suggest that the figure would be closer to 30%, so who is right? GPs in Lewisham, including the chair of the clinical commissioning group, suggest that the number of people who would go to an urgent care centre at Lewisham has been overestimated. They suggest that they would be inclined to send people to hospitals where they knew specialist opinion was available.
If I was a mum and my five-year-old woke up in the middle of the night in dreadful pain, where would I go? Would I go to a place that I was not sure had the appropriate staff and equipment to deal with my son or daughter, or would I go to an all-singing, all-dancing unit in central London or at King’s? I am not a mum, but I know where I would go. If people do not use the urgent care centre, the extra demands placed on neighbouring A and Es will exceed the numbers forecast in the plans before the Health Secretary. Ultimately, there may not be enough capacity elsewhere for people to be seen and to be seen quickly.
I should add to that the heroic assumptions in the proposals about reducing the need for acute care in the first place. I am all for tackling the reasons why so many people turn up at hospitals, but I know how hard it is to change people’s behaviour and to organise adequate community-based care to reduce the need for acute admissions.