DUDLEY Labour politicians have voiced concerns over a clause in a new health care bill that would permit the fast-track closure of hospitals.
Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, and Natasha Millward, Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Dudley South, have expressed worries over a clause in the Government’s Care Bill which would allow swift hospital closures and reconfigurations to be imposed in cases where the Government appoints trust special administrators - regardless of the hospital’s performance and the wishes of residents, patients and doctors.
Clause 118, dubbed the 'hospital closure clause', means decisions about local hospital provision could be taken in as little as 40 days – and protections that enabled campaigners to overturn a decision by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to close Lewisham Hospital in London would be stripped away.
Health trade unions, The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and former Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP have all expressed concerns about the detail in the Bill - which is being examined by a committee of MPs before it returns to the House of Commons on February 4 for what’s expected to be a final vote.
But the issue has had little discussion in the national press or public arena.
Mr Austin said: "I’m concerned Clause 118 could be used as a back-door way for the Government to force through unpopular changes to local NHS services.
"The clause would give the Secretary of State the power to change services at hospitals other than those which have gone into special administration without the support of local doctors and patients.”
The Labour MP said he would be writing to Jeremy Hunt to express concerns and he pledged to press the Government to ensure patients continue to have a say on any changes to services at their local hospital.
Labour campaigner Miss Millward said she was “extremely concerned by the speed Clause 118 is being rushed through Parliament” and she added: "Clause 118 would mean fast-track closures - or privatisation - of any hospital, if there is a struggling hospital nearby.
"With the level of cuts in the NHS it will be hard to find a hospital which isn't near a struggling hospital. It won’t matter if the hospital earmarked for change is solvent, gives high quality care and is heavily relied on by the local community.
"It is shocking to see this clause means sweeping changes in health services, without proper meaningful consultation with local people, the CCG and local councillors.
"The Tories are trying to railroad through back-door privatisation of the NHS. If they succeed in passing this through Parliament then no NHS hospital will be safe."
However - Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has defended Clause 118 as "necessary" and in a blog on a national newspaper website he said: "We need the power to turn around failing hospitals quickly and – in extremis – put them into administration before people are harmed or die unnecessarily."
He said it "it is sometimes not possible to solve problems in one hospital without affecting the wider health economy" and added: "Special administrators do have to consult even under the powers in Clause 118. However, the process has to happen quickly, because when a hospital is failing lives can be put at risk."
Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Health, said the trust special administrators regime is considered a "last resort" and would be used only in "exceptional circumstances to enable a rapid solution to the intractable problems of a seriously challenged NHS provider where other interventions have failed to deliver improvements".
Anyone worried about Clause 118 is being asked to write to their MP urging them to oppose it in Parliament.
People can also sign a petition on the 38 Degrees website https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/jeremy-hunt-should-resign-and-take-his-hospital-closure-clause-with-him