Socialist Worker

A&E feels the strain from latest health service cuts

As a third of London’s accident and emergency units are threatened with closure, Julie Sherry argues that this could push hospitals to breaking point

Issue No. 2308

Four out of the eight accident and emergency (A&E) departments in north west London could close within 12 months.

A&E is in the firing line across Britain as hospital trusts try to find £20 billion of “efficiency savings”. The problem is particularly acute in London, where a third of A&Es are marked for closure.

And closures will hit a service that is already straining under the pressure of previous cuts.

A&E performance reports from Queen’s hospital in Romford, outer east London, give a sense of the scale of the problem. Patients there have to wait an average of 58 minutes for their initial assessment—almost four times the target of 15 minutes.

Some 95 percent of A&E patients are supposed to be admitted or discharged within four hours. Yet at Queen’s 5 percent are still in A&E after more than 15 hours.

When hospitals are under pressure they sometimes divert incoming patients to other A&E units.

One London ambulance worker told Socialist Worker, “There are some weeks when we get diverted from Queen’s to another hospital almost every day.

“Other weeks there are no diverts, but we have to do a lot of waiting in corridors with patients.”

The two nearest hospitals to which ambulances from Queen’s get diverted are Whipps Cross in Waltham Forest and King George’s in Ilford.

But King George’s is among those that could be axed.

Pressure

“That would be a disaster,” continued the ambulance worker. “There is massive pressure on all the hospitals in the area, and if King George’s closes it will pile on even more.”

The cuts target was announced by the previous Labour government—and some closures started before the coalition had taken office. But the passing of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act in March has seen many hospitals accelerate their plans.

John Lister, co-founder of Keep Our NHS Public, is analysing the cuts in north west London for Brent, Ealing and Harrow trades councils.

He believes that cuts could be implemented there as soon as December.

The focus on closing A&E departments can seem strange.

After all, spending on A&E only accounts for just over 5 percent of hospital costs and 2.65 percent of total NHS spending in London.

But a hospital that loses its A&E department will have fewer patients coming in, making other departments harder to sustain.

“Almost every hospital closure since the 1970s has begun with the closure of an A&E department,” said John.

“It’s part of a tried and tested sequence of events—as one service is taken away it causes another to fall.”

But as John pointed out, while some cuts have gone through many more are still at the consultation stage.

He concluded, “A determined resistance might hold back or defeat some or all of the proposals.”

NW London NHS—Under the Knife, launch of the report with John Lister, John McDonnell MP, Dot Gibson (National Pensioners Convention), Tuesday 26 June, 7.30pm, Ealing Town Hall, New Broadway, Ealing W5 2BY


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