Lewisham Hospital judgement was not just a bloody nose for the coalition health team

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations


Perhaps the good news we seek about the NHS will not come from a success with patients and instead highlights that the government needs to take a step back when it tries to railroad through reforms that the local people do not agree with.


The high Court ruling to quash an attempt by Jeremy Hunt to overrule the wishes of the local people and use the Lewisham Hospital financial security to prop up a debt elsewhere is a signal to the Coalition that they cannot simply make it up as they go along. The High Court ruling was not just a bloody nose for the coalition health team, it was also a decision that told Jerry that he cannot play fast and loose with the provisions of the National Health Services Act.


This is probably the key element of the judgement.  Just because Government makes the law does not mean they can break it with impunity. It is somewhat telling that whereas the government has said all along that the changes were needed to make the service better, when they find they have lost they now admit that they did say that the cuts were necessary because South London Health Care trust, excluding Lewisham, was losing £1million every week . In truth it does not matter why the changes were needed but we expect the politicians will be honest about what they believe. Unfortunately despite the fact that we expect truth and openness from politicians this ideal has become a precious and transient commodity. 


Whilst the High Court has given the Department of Health leave to appeal and although they are ‘disappointed by the decision’ the Dept they have only said that they will consider the judgement carefully and continue with their intention to dissolve the South London Healthcare NHS trust. If they have any sense they will swallow their pride and accede to the judgement and the wishes of the people.


Elsewhere in the UK another drama unfolded with the long awaited decision over the future for the Mid Staffordshire NHS trust. This long running saga has been played out in the media for some years and more recently with the release of the reports by Francis and Keogh there will clearly be a major change in how health care is designed, accessed and delivered. With the trust in such dire straits and due to be split up into component parts, you can but wonder if there is also an idea in the back of someone’s mind that the way forward will be to privatise/sell off  the most profitable parts and leave the rest to the NHS.


It is indeed unfortunate that like so many things in life we only learn from our mistakes, and have such a deep insight after the event.  And it is here that we need to be very clear, not just about what we can do, but what we hope to achieve. It was Labour that set up the concept of a health care trust, free to spend, design and deliver its services as it saw fit to meet the needs of the NHS and we hope, the patient. But it is this freedom that could very well be the stumbling block for the future. At a recent meeting on the proposals in the Francis report, the question was asked of DH, ‘how will you implement any changes’ if a Foundation Trust has autonomy. The answer from DH was as some of us predicted- ‘we recognise this and intend to look into it.’ If you have any dealings with DH officials you will know that this is a euphemism for ‘don’t know – let me get back to you on that’. 


It is clear that the NHS, what is left of it, is very likely to be the hot topic for the 2015 national election.  It may even liven up the MEP elections in 2014. Maybe it is time for us all to start thinking about the questions we want to ask our prospective  MEP or parliamentary candidate and hold them to account when they answer.

Information about Unions21′s fringe event on health at the Labour Party Conference is available by clicking  here.


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