Tory health minister Jeremy Hunt is hell bent on closing even more A&Es. Within days of losing his court battle to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E in south east London, he confirmed bloody new cuts in north west London last week.
Four of the area’s nine A&Es are set to close, starting with Hammersmith Hospital. Next Charing Cross Hospital’s A&E is to be replaced with a minor injuries unit which won’t accept ambulances. Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals aren’t far behind.
“This is the biggest closure programme ever in the NHS,” community nurse Anne Drinkell told Socialist Worker. She is active in the Save Our Hospitals campaign in north west London. “Almost two million people will be affected and it’s going to place an unbearable strain on the remaining A&Es,” she said.
The crisis will be compounded by the plan to cut 500 acute beds at Charing Cross Hospital. It is also threatened by the demolition of 60 percent of its site, earmarked for luxury flats. And its stroke unit is to be merged with St Mary’s Hospital, a 45-minute bus ride away.
The government argues that a shift in emphasis towards a smaller number of specialist centres is better for patients for many conditions such as strokes and major trauma.
But if A&Es at general hospitals close, studies show that those at specialist hospitals get overwhelmed with ordinary emergencies because ambulances have nowhere else to go. “This is likely to cause deaths,” said Anne.
“Ordinary emergencies such as drowning, asthma attacks, anaphylactic shock and appendicitis will have worse outcomes. These patients don’t need specialists—just doctors, fast. They suffer much worse consequences when they have to go further because A&Es have closed.”
The cuts will pile pressure onto an A&E service that’s already in crisis—and just in the run-up to the regular winter spike in patients. The latest NHS figures show that over 521,000 patients in England and Wales had to wait for more than four hours in the last 30 weeks—up over 100,000 on last year.
And over 87,000 patients had to wait on trolleys for treatment for over four hours since last April—up over 26,500 on the same period last year. The Tories’ plans around the NHS are not about improving services.
They are about slashing budgets, selling off valuable public buildings and preparing the rest for privatisation.
Cuts have a knock-on effect
The government knows very well that closing one A&E has a serious knock-on effect on others—as they learned in Buckinghamshire. The A&E at Wycombe Hospital was downgraded to a minor injuries unit in October last year.
That meant High Wycombe’s 170,000 people had to go 13 miles to the A&E at Wexham Park, or 15 miles to the one at Stoke Mandeville. The month before the downgrade only 4 percent of A&E patients at these hospitals had to wait more than four hours for treatment.
But by March this year some 20 percent of patients at Wexham Park and 13 percent at Stoke Mandeville had to wait over four hours.