Planned reductions to key Lewisham Hospital services are “unlawful” the High Court was told today at the start of the legal battle over the cutbacks.
The judicial reviews of the closure of the Accident and Emergency department and the loss of 90 per cent of the hospital’s maternity services are expected to last for three days.
The court proceedings begin only two months after the hospital was named as one of the top 40 hospitals in the UK and was praised for its “outstanding” performance.
The service downgrades were approved by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as a way of dealing with the debts of the South London Healthcare Trust. However the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign group claims that the decision was made without passing Mr Hunt’s four tests that must be passed before any hospital reconfiguration.
The four tests require that changes must have:
– support from GP commissioners
– strengthened public and patient engagement
– clarity on the clinical evidence base
– and consistency with current and prospective patient choice
The Save Lewisham Hospital Group organiser Louise Irvine said that over the next two days an argument will be put together by the campaign’s legal team:
“We heard the council and campaign barristers argue that the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s decision to close Lewisham A&E and Maternity as part of the ‘unsustainable provider regime’ that was brought in to solve the financial problems of south London healthcare was outside his powers, as Lewisham Healthcare Trust is not part of the insolvent Trust for which the special administration insolvency regime was used.
“Basically we hope the judge decides that the decision to close vital services at our hospital was unlawful”.
Rosa Curling, from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the Save Lewisham Hospital Group, said that ‘The consultation process which took place about the proposals was flawed, the four tests Mr Hunt confirmed would have to be satisfied before any reconfiguration proposals could proceed have not been met, and the Secretary of State has misunderstood his own legal powers.’
The Save Lewisham Hospital Group has urged members of the community to attend the court hearings this week and today a large group assembled at the court to show their support. Irvine said:
“The court room was so packed with Lewisham Hospital campaign supporters that proceedings had to be delayed to get more chairs. The largest court room was not big enough for all supporters to get in.
“We would love it if supporters of the campaign attended court over the next two days.”
Last Saturday, the group organized the Lewisham People’s Commission of Inquiry at the Broadway Theatre, Catford. The event gave the opportunity for various patients and hospital staff to give evidence against the changes, which they felt had been ignored.
Chairman of the event, Michael Mansfield QC, expressed concerns over the “absence of democracy” with the proposed changes. He said that “when a reasoned argument was put to the TSA on various occasions we had more than one witness saying effectively they were dismissed.”
The campaign group has also organized celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the NHS this Friday. The event will take place at the war memorial opposite Lewisham Hospital and will have games and activities, free birthday cake and speakers from campaign members.
Read about the group’s long fought campaign in our Save Lewisham A&E specials page here