Celebrated actress Vanessa Redgrave spoke out in favour of taking the government to court in a bid to stop controversial changes being made to health care services in north west London.
She addressed a meeting called by Hammersmith and Fulham Council on Tuesday evening (February 23) to discuss the findings and ramifications of the Independent Healthcare Report it commissioned with four other Labour administrations looking at the impact of the NHS ’s Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF).
Her comments came as council leader Stephen Cowan told the meeting at Hammersmith Town Hall that he had started the ball rolling to halt the controversial plans by legal means.
Oscar-winner and stage legend Ms Redgrave called a judicial review into the NHS plans “vital” and said the battle could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
SaHF aims to provide a better, more joined-up health and social care across North West London, that always puts the patient first.
But it resulted in the closure of the maternity ward at Ealing Hospital in July 2015, with the paediatrics unit shutting this year. SaHF has have also seen A&Es at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals close .
An A&E 'in name only'
The meeting, held in the packed out Small Hall, was chaired by H&F’s head of health Vivienne Luckey. On the panel joining her and Cllr Cowan were report commissioners Dr Stephen Hirst and Dr John Lister, and Save Our Hospitals chairman Patrick Barron.
The Independent Healthcare Report was commissioned by H&F, Ealing, Hounslow, Harrow and Brent Councils and chaired by Michael Mansfield QC. When published in December it called SaHF “deeply flawed” and said closures must be reversed. It also recommended legal action to stop the plans if necessary.
Cllr Cowan said NHS plans would see large chunks of the hospital in Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith closed, with a replacement medical facility just 13% of its size.
He said an A&E, which the NHS has insisted will remain at the hospital, will be in name only and actually be an Urgent Care Clinic.
He branded Jeremy Hunt “possibly the worst public health secretary in my lifetime” and warned: “We will do everything we can to save our hospital, and if that means taking our government to court that is exactly what we will do.
“We will sue them and we will JR (judicial review) them. There’s nothing we won’t do to save our hospital.”
Tories 'not the bad guys'
Dr Hirst warned of the tactic of “hollowing out” where institutions are told they could be closed, leading to fewer people applying to work there and standards dropping. “In this way you are precipitating the closure,” he said.
Dr Lister said the NHS had failed to provide a business plan despite several requests, and the closure of units without adequate replacement had placed huge pressure on other hospitals.
He also disputed NHS claims the changes were “clinically led”, which was backed by a junior doctor who believed “the majority are wholeheartedly opposed to it”.
Attending the meeting was opposition spokesman for health Andrew Brown . He said the commission’s report raised important and valid points, and there was huge respect for the campaign to protect health services. But he felt the Labour group was wrong to paint the Conservatives as the bad guys.
He said: “While many individuals and the vast majority are here on an apolitical basis to protect our hospital, there is clearly an undercurrent behind the behaviour of the leadership. The focus of their opposition is the government when really the decision makers in this process is the NHS.
And rightly so, I would rather that the future decisions are taken by the NHS in corroboration with the public.
“Cllr Cowan has said that there is nothing he wouldn’t do to defend Charing Cross but not once has he come to us to work with us to try to influence the NHS.”