Save the NHS from the “Hospital Closure Clause” in the Care Bill; Write to Your MP and Attend a Parliamentary Meeting on Feb. 27


POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.

Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).

Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.

25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October.

The government, however, had already decided that, although the Lewisham campaign was successful, they would prevent any further campaigns from having a chance of success by changing the law. Clause 118 of the Care Bill — known colloquially as the “hospital closure clause” — was drafted as the Care Bill was making its way to the House of Lords, and, as the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign recently explained, it will “expand the powers of a TSA [Trust Special Administrator] to not only take into account the services provided by the failing trust to which he or she is appointed, but also to be able to reconfigure any neighbouring or even quite remotely connected services.”

In other words, as the campaign explained in a recent email, the intention of Clause 118 is to make it legal for the government — and senior NHS managers who have forgotten what the NHS is for — “to close any thriving, solvent hospital whenever they want to.”

As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign also explained:

The Care Bill is coming back to the report stage debate in the Commons early in March and, to have a chance of defeating Clause 118, those who love our NHS and fear for its future must have as many MPs as possible (of all parties) prepared to vote against it or, at very least, defy any Government whip and abstain.  This is the one and only chance to save the NHS from a truly crippling blow.  The Clause as been called a “hospital closure clause” and would make possible re-configuration of health services with no proper local consultation and on the basis of financial considerations rather than changing clinical needs.

On their website, the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign further explain:

The Unsustainable Provider Regime by which TSAs are appointed was never intended to be used to reconfigure health services in a wide area, but, should Clause 118 remain part of the Care Bill, it could be used for this purpose.

  • The prime aim of Clause 118 is cutting expenditure — any input from clinicians is secondary.
  • It has to be a quick piece of work, with limited opportunity for public consultation. (Normal reconfigurations take years and have all sorts of checks and balances built in because the only specified intention is to make decisions that are in the best interests of health service users and supported by clinical evidence.)
  • The financial analysis in a TSA’s report is therefore inevitably done hastily and such analysis and alternative operational plans set out may well be full of mistakes. (This proved to be the case in connection with the South London Health Care Trust and threatened closure of services at Lewisham Hospital.)

What is highly deplorable is the way that this was done by an extra Clause added in to a completely different piece of legislation that happened to be passing through the House of Lords. So, whatever your MP’s views on the rights or wrongs of Government policy on the NHS, this amendment to the Care Bill is a case of the “Executive” trying to ride rough-shod over the “Legislature” — and that is reason enough to reject it.

The campaigners are asking people, if possible, not only to write to their MPs (and here’s another method of doing so), but also, if possible, to “phone their office or go to speak to them in person if there is a constituency event or surgery coming up soon.”

Below is suggested text that you may want to use — although it’s always better to write your own words! As the campaigners also note, “Make reference to where you know your MP has spoken out in favour of any NHS provider, refer to your own experiences of using services and/or travel times, just mention a recent event in your constituency or even the weather! And, if you’ve the time, a posted hard copy letter can be even more effective.”

I am worried about what might happen to our NHS if Clause 118 of the Care Bill becomes law.

I understand that this Bill is currently at the Committee Stage but is likely to come back to the House of Commons early in March. I am asking you now to vote against this particular clause when you have an opportunity to do so. Clause 118 was not originally part of the Bill and was simply introduced as it went through the House of Lords when the Government realised that the Lewisham Hospital case would go against it.

I am worried because Clause 118 gives new extensive powers to Trust Special Administrators who are appointed to rescue failing hospital Trusts. It will enable them to make rapid changes to any local hospital (or even close it) whether or not it is part of the failing Trust they are required to deal with. It also means this can be done without proper consultation with local people and local doctors. Clause 118 has been described as a “hospital closure clause”, and could have relevance to any hospital or other health services in the country.

I also think that the way the Secretary of State for Health is making this amendment to the existing law about Trust Special Administrators is rather underhand. It seems to have been designed to make proper Parliamentary debate on the issues and possible unintended consequences difficult. Please unite with your colleagues, and , if possible, those of other parties, and demand of the Government a full discussion of this measure and all its implications. And, when the chance comes, I am asking you to vote against Clause 118.

And finally, for now, here’s the information about Thursday’s protest:

10.30am: Assemble opposite 10 Downing Street prior to the handing in of a 38 Degrees petition against Clause 118, which currently has nearly 150,000 signatures.

11am: Handing in of petition to the Prime Minister.

11.30am: Protest and rally on College Green, opposite Parliament.

12.30pm: Enter Parliament for a Parliamentary meeting at 1pm, where speakers include:

– Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary
– Louise Irvine, Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign & London MEP candidate for National Health Action Party
– Dr. Kailash Chand, Deputy Chair of the BMA
– Dr. David Wrigley, GPC BMA
– Caroline Molloy, Editor of Our NHS at OpenDemocracy
– Dr. Wendy Savage, Chair, Keep Our NHS Public

I hope to see some of you there!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Londoners, please come to Parliament on Thursday morning! As well as the NHS protest, disability campaigners will be holding a demonstration prior to a Parliamentary debate on the successful #WOWpetition (war on welfare):

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Defeating Clause 118 is really important to prevent the government – and senior NHS managers who have forgotten what the NHS is for – from circumventing the long and in-depth process that ought to be involved when there are plans to close hospitals or severely cut services.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Unbelievable! From the Telegraph: “Atos awarded contract for NHS records”

    “The beleagured firm Atos has been given the contract to extract patient records from GP surgeries as part of the controversial NHS data sharing scheme, MPs were told yesterday.

    “The Commons health committee heard that the firm has been given responsibility for removing personal data from medical records, as part of the national programme, which has been delayed for six months amid an increasing backlash.

    “Last week NHS England ordered the delay after pressure from patients groups, doctors’ leaders and privacy campaigners, who argued that the national plan had been poorly communicated, and that the public had not been properly informed about their right to opt out.

    “Yesterday, health service officials disclosed that a key contract for the controversial project has been handed to the firm Atos …”

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Ajo Muhammad wrote:

    There we go again boy, the people need you man. Thanks for keeping the everyday man in mind.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re most welcome, Ajo. Love your encouraging comments!

  6. ‘Stick The Boot Into Jeremy Hunt’s’ Clause 119 Of The Care Bill | ukgovernmentwatch says...

  7. Philip Jones says...

    Imagine this Bill is passed and Jeremy Hunt (or any Tory will do) gets seriously ill and the only hospital they could have been treated in has been closed because of them – that would be the very definiton of irony!!!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Philip. That’s true, although the problem, I suspect, is that MPs nowadays have, almost certainly, all abandoned the NHS for private healthcare. To the best of my knowledge, private healthcare still draws on the NHS (for certain types of expertise and research), so your scenario is still possible. It would be an irony indeed – but I’d rather see ordinary people stand up in droves to save the NHS.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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