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MPs grant powers to close local hospitals

MPs have voted through a controversial measure that gives the Health Secretary special powers to close local hospitals, even if they are performing well.

Clause 119 in the Care Bill allows a hospital to be closed or downgraded if a neighbouring trust is struggling financially. The clause gives special administrators the power to make changes to neighbouring services while trying to rescue failing NHS trusts. It was inserted into the bill after the High Court ruled last October that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted outside his powers when he decided the emergency and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital, in south-east London, should be cut back to save a neighbouring Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich which was failing financially.

A total of 297 MPs voted in favour of Clause 119, while 239 voted against it.

There have been several high-profile campaigns to save hospitals and services earmarked for closure in recent years, including the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign.
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told MPs that Clause 119 was dangerous and wrong. He said:

“It creates an entirely new route for hospital reconfiguration – top-down, finance-led.”
“It subverts the established process in the NHS which requires that any changes to hospitals should first and foremost be about saving lives, rather than saving money, and it puts management consultants, not medical consultants or GPs, in the driving seat.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the clause would help drive forward changes to ensure patient safety when trusts were found to be failing. A Department of Health spokesperson said the clause would only ever be used as a “last resort”. A spokesman said:

“Changes to the special administrator regime will ensure that patients get safe care, and these powers have only ever been used in extremis twice since 2009. It is a process of last resort, when a hospital trust faces very serious financial or quality risks.”

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