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High Court quashes decision by Jeremy Hunt to close Lewisham Hospital

The High Court today found that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, had acted unlawfully when deciding to substantially cut services and close departments at Lewisham Hospital

Photograph: Simon Way

31 July 2013

The High Court today (31 July 2013) found that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, had acted outside his powers and therefore unlawfully, in deciding to substantially cut services and close departments at Lewisham Hospital.

In today’s judgment Mr Justice Silber said that the decision of the Secretary of State must be “quashed” as he had acted outside his powers as Secretary of State, and in breach of the National Health Service Act 2006, when he announced to Parliament that services at Lewisham Hospital would be downgraded and closed.

Law firm Leigh Day, representing the Save Lewisham Campaign Group, successfully argued that the decision of the Secretary of State was unlawful. They also successfully argued that the decision of Trust Special Administrator, the first to be appointed under new health service guidance, was also unlawful.

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign made up of and supported by patients, community groups, GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in Lewisham was formed in 2012 and has been supported by campaigning group 38 Degrees.

The campaign was formed in response to the South London Healthcare Trust Special Administrator (TSA) Mathew Kershaw proposal that, as part of the cost saving measures put forward for the neighbouring trust, South London Healthcare NHS Trust, that services at Lewisham Hospital should be reduced.

Despite being appointed TSA for the South London Healthcare Trust, in his final report to the Secretary of State in January 2013, Mr Kershaw not only proposed changes to South London Healthcare Trust but also to Lewisham Healthcare Trust, in particular to Lewisham Hospital which it runs.

Mr Kershaw proposed that the Hospital should close and downgrade some of its services, including its A&E department, acute admitting wards and adult Intensive Care Unit. He also suggested that the maternity service at the hospital should be downgraded or closed completely.

These recommendations were made despite widespread agreement that Lewisham Hospital was a high achieving and popular hospital not in financial difficulty. Save Lewisham Hospital campaign argued to the TSA at the time, that the alternative health care options proposed would have been extremely difficult for residents to access.

However, on 31 January 2013 the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, announced to parliament that he accepted the TSA’s recommendations about South London Healthcare Trust including the recommendation to reconfigure NHS services ‘beyond the confines of [SLHT], across all of South East London [including Lewisham].’ (Para 40)

The High Court today found that “The TSA did not have vires [the power] to make his recommendations relating to LH [Lewisham Hospital]; The Secretary of State did not have vires to make his Decision relating to LH.” (Para 208)

‘Therefore the Decision of the Secretary of State insofar as it relates to LH must be quashed as must the recommendations of the TSA also insofar as they relate to LH.’ (Para 210)

In his judgment (Para 38) Mr Justice Silber also referred to a pledge made by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in January 2013 to Dame Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford that, in relation to Lewisham Hospital in particular:

“What the Government and I specifically promised was that there should be no closures or reorganisations unless they had support from the GP commissioners, unless there was proper public and patient engagement and unless there was an evidence base. Let me be absolutely clear: unlike under the last Government when these closures and changes were imposed in a top-down way, if they do not meet those criteria, they will not happen.”

Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day, who represented the Save Lewisham Hospital Group said:

“When the Secretary of State appointed the Trust Special Administrator to investigate and develop recommendations on the future of South London Healthcare NHS Trust, he promised that there would be no “back-door approach to reconfiguration”; there would be no reconfiguration of neighbouring NHS services delivered by other NHS bodies beyond the South London Trust.

“He broke this promise - in fact, his decision regarding South London included a substantial reconfiguration of services delivered by other NHS bodies beyond South London and in particular in relation to Lewisham Hospital. The court has today agreed that the TSA and the Secretary of State has no legal power to do this and has emphatically made clear that this decision should be quashed.”

Dr Louise Irvine, local GP and Chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said that she had been overwhelmed by the support from people around the UK:

“This is an incredible day. We are delighted for every single person who has supported the campaign and those who will now continue to benefit from this extraordinary hospital. The support from thousands of people in Lewisham is a very real demonstration of the Big Society.

“David Cameron himself said that there would be no ‘top-down’ approach to closures and we appreciate the Court’s decision which should serve as a reminder to this Government to not forget their promises and not to underestimate those who they seek to represent.”

David Babbs, Executive Director, 38 Degrees said "It's not everyday that ordinary people take a government to court and win. The fact that so many 38 Degrees members donated from across the country to help make this possible shows how important this is and the lengths we'll go to protect our NHS from Jeremy Hunt"

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