The failed legal battle to close Lewisham Hospital is estimated to have cost taxpayers over £200,000 so far, according to government figures, with more expenditures to come.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the government’s legal challenge and subsequent appeal resulted in the Department of Health spending £117,000 on the judicial review during March and June 2013. It is also confirmed that £92,000 has been spent on the appeal from August to October.
The findings were made public by Labour Councillor for Lewisham Central, Michael Harris yesterday. The total expenditure does not include the cost of in-house counsel at the Department of Health, nor the cost of Lewisham Council’s legal fees, which are yet to be decided by a judge.
Harris said: “This is an astonishing amount of money and the figure may be well be over £300,000 when it is totalled, which is outrageous. On top of this, the department of health have already spent £5.1 million on the professional administrative process, a huge proportion of which was on wasted on consultancy.”
Matthew Kershaw, special administrator of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, is said to have spent £3.2 million on consultants. Harris added: “Rather then providing NHS patients with the care they require, the government has wasted up to £6 million on attempting to shut down a single accident and emergency.”
Harris said that the non-disclosure of the in-house costs could be a way of avoiding further criticism from the public, and cited “the embarrassing extent that constituents are tied up this process.” He also suggested that Hunt’s appeal should never have taken place: “It’s the appeal that that has incurred a significant amount of the cost.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Our decision to appeal the High Court’s judgment was taken in the best, long-term interests of patients across south east London. This was the first time the NHS failure regime had been used and it was important for the law to be fully tested.”
Many campaigners are dismayed at the cost to taxpayers, considering that there are almost 6,000 fewer nurses now compared to 2010.
Jos Bell, a spokesperson for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said: “This is an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money at a time when the government is pretty much saying that they want austerity to a permanent fixture.”
“This amount of money could have been better spent on a huge amount of other things that were being cut, like nurses for example.”