Monday, June 06, 2005

Charing Cross? Furious!


I don't want to go into tedious personal history, but I once spent two months in Charing Cross Hospital, West London. The standard of care I got there was reasonably good, considering it was the NHS. I've been going back there regularly for check-ups, since.

So I was perturbed to find that there were plans to close the hospital. It's a bloody enormous thing, for those unfamiliar with it, and I can't imagine what would happen to the site. Besides, it's got one of the only A&E departments in the area.

On a visit this morning, I was puzzled to see a letter posted on a wall from Derek Smith, the Chief Executive of Hammersmith Hospitals Trust (which runs Charing Cross), stating categorically that the hospital would not close. Then I discovered this report which states that consultants were warned in April (by the same Chief Executive) that closure was a certainty but that "[the plans] would be denied if they leaked out in the run-up to the general election".

Interestingly, the facilities of the closed Charing Cross Hospital would be transferred after closure to ... Hammersmith Hospital. Those who are not familiar with the area might like to know that Charing Cross Hospital (which is nowhere near Charing Cross station) is about 40 minutes by bus from Hammersmith Hospital (which is not in Hammersmith, but in East Acton).

So, a long-established hospital with an excellent record of research and teaching (just ask anyone from Imperial College), one of the only A&E departments in West London, some state of the art scanning equipment (I know, I've been under it) and a convenient location is allowed to go £5 million into the red, until the Trust running it decides to close it and transfer its facilities to a smaller hospital which is not even in the same part of London, and doesn't have an A&E department, and (into the bargain) decides to muzzle the embarrassing news until after the election (and is still denying it).

The new Tory MP for Hammersmith & Fulham, Greg Hands, has vowed to fight the closure, but I would have hoped any MP for the area would do so. In any case, this is merely the logical consequence of the policies his party put into place when they were in power. So I don't expect too much from him except posturing.*

According to the Guardian, who also ran the closure story in April, the Trust's financial difficulties are connected with its purchase of Ravenscourt Park Hospital. Ravenscourt Park was a private hospital, and Hammersmith Hospitals Trust bought it with a view to carrying out more hip and knee operations - however, GPs preferred to carry on sending their patients to private facilities, and the hospital was left with empty beds. (Incidentally, the Guardian reports rumours that the Home Office may sell off Wormwood Scrubs Prison in order to accommodate the extra patients from Charing Cross - I know being in hospital feels like being in prison, but this is ridiculous).

There is, apparently, a public consultation due to be held this month (June) about the plans to move the site. But it also appears that this is yet another case where the decision has already been taken.

Where is Dr Richard Taylor when we need him?

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth reading here the speeches made by Clive Soley and Matthew Carrington, then MPs for (respectively) Hammersmith and Fulham, in relation to proposals made to close Charing Cross Hospital back in 1993.

* POST-POSTSCRIPT: Possibly I have been slightly unfair on Greg Hands, who has been a busy little bee since entering the Commons, firing off written questions about Charing Cross Hospital. In one answer, Jane Kennedy (Minister of State for Health) states that "Hammersmith Hospitals National Health Service Trust is currently exploring options about how it will manage its estate over the next 10 years. As yet, the trust has no clear plans, but I understand that the process will involve a range of internal and external partners in drawing up a solution, which would then be subject to a full and thorough public consultation." (My emphases)
We'll see, won't we?


Post a Comment

<< Home