Claims that Lewisham Hospital A&E could be at risk of closure again because of a shortfall in local NHS funding have been rejected.
Councillor Alan Hall, chair of Lewisham Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee last week warned that the future of Lewisham Hospital A&E was in doubt after a report showed a £1 billion pound shortfall in the NHS locally over the next four years.
The warning came after the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for South East London, published last Friday, also predicted an “additional affordability pressure” loss of £80million, due to the deterioration of financial performance of health services in the area, and ambulance services are set to suffer a £12 million shortfall over the next five years.
Hall said: “The report has confirmed our deep concerns about some serious flaws in the plans … changes to the orthopaedic services could spell the end of Lewisham A&E.”
Hall added: “Because of all of these threats, I want to apply four key tests that this process has to pass. Are the plans transparent and open? Is the funding in place? Are the public being fully consulted? And finally, will services improve?”
‘Our Healthier South East London’, the partnership of Clinical Commissioning Groups and NHS providers, which was behind the plan, rejected Hall’s comments. A spokesman said: “The Sustainability and Transformation Plan in south east London has been clear from the outset that we are fully committed to maintaining all of our A&E services including those at Lewisham.”
The shortfall warning comes four years after local A&E services were threatened after the dissolution of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. Lewisham A&E services and maternity services were reprieved by the High Court, who deemed the closure plans “unlawful”, after a sustained campaign by local residents and GP’s, backed by local MP Heidi Alexander.
England has since been divided into 44 ‘footprints’, with each area responsible for developing a Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The areas for South East London include Lewisham, Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth and Southwark.
The spokesman added: “One of our tests to any changes to orthopaedic services will be that it maintains emergency surgery at Lewisham hospital while cutting waiting times for elective surgery across south east London – we are currently failing to meet waiting time standards. This test will be independently assured. The plans we have published address the challenges facing all local health and care services – not just hospitals.”
The costs of providing care are rising faster than inflation each year, the spokesperson said.
“Over the five year period of the budget for the NHS in south east London will go up from just under £6bn to around £7bn in 2021. Our forecasts show that if we do nothing, costs will rise faster than funding to £8bn – leaving us with a gap of around £1bn. The £1bn figure is the financial challenge we face if we do nothing to change the way all health and care services work.”
The spokesperson added that the plans have been developed alongside the help of clinicians, staff and patients. They said that they will ‘continue to work with the public’ and consult on plans for orthopaedic care.
“We are already seeing improvements to services from our work. With extra funding, all boroughs will be able to offer GP appointments 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, by 2019.”