A change to the care bill which has been dubbed the ‘hospital closure clause’ has been defended by Boston’s MP who has accused critics of ‘scaremongering’ - however, Labour’s shadow health minister has said Lincolnshire’s hospitals could be some of those at greatest risk.
Clause 119 would give a trust special administrator, who has been appointed to sort out a failing hospital trust, the power to order changes to a hospital’s services as part of an overall solution, including downgrading it or even shutting it.
Critics claim this could lead to hospitals being closed without the communities around them being given any say, and could mean a decision not to close a hospital could be overturned.
Boston and Skegness MP Mark Simmonds however, says the clause is not about hospital closures.
He said: “It is imperative that when things go wrong in our healthcare system, specifically hospitals, then we can act as quickly as possible to make things right again and ensure that patients are receiving high quality care.
“This is why the last Government created the option for appointing Trust Special Administrators to secure, within a tight timescale, a complete solution for sustainable and high-quality services where the trust providing them is failing significantly.
“Of course, it is quite wrong to assume that decisions affecting a local hospital will not have a wider impact on local healthcare. This is why clause 119 will enable TSA’s to take into account the wider health economy.
“The Government has always been clear that full public consultation is required in any major changes to services. The clause actually gives a TSA longer to come to their conclusions and extends the statutory consultation period from 30 to 40 working.
“Moreover, it requires the TSA to seek the agreement of those who commission services from other local trusts, and if they can’t achieve this, to involve NHS England.
“Organisations scaremongering about this clause, and the NHS as a whole, should remember that ultimately it is NHS patients who suffer if we do not deal effectively with failures in the health service. The NHS’s primary responsibly is to provide quality care to those who need it and we should all be working together towards that aim.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Andy Burnham has said 32 communities are at risk of being made ‘voiceless’ by the proposals – including Lincolnshire.
Labour believes the clause will mean ministers will get the green light to impose downgrades on hospitals in areas whilst local patients and clinicians would have little chance to object.
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This Government used to say it wanted to put patients and doctors in charge of the local NHS. Now Jeremy Hunt wants to ride roughshod over local communities and have carte blanche to break up the NHS without anyone else having a say. He must be stopped.
“With more and more hospitals in financial difficulty, this move could hit every community in the land and leave them voiceless in the face of changes to their services.
“Labour is clear: changes to hospitals should be driven by clinical, not financial, reasons with local people involved every step of the way. That is why we believe these plans are dangerous and wrong. It is time for Parliament to stop an arrogant Secretary of State from overstepping the mark.”
Last year, health minister Jeremy Hunt placed United Lincolnshire’s Hospital Trust, which runs Pilgrim Hospital, into special measures.