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GPs face decisions on whether to axe hospital A&Es and health centres

By Ian Quinn

GPs have been plunged into agonising decision-making over whether to close hospital A&E units and health centres, as ministers said they now had 'shared responsibility' to decide them where the NHS axe will fall.

In the first major tests of health secretary Andrew Lansley's moratorium on reconfigurations in the health service, GPs have been given the task of deciding over the future of a raft of hospitals, which MPs and campaigners claim have been put at risk by the huge shift in investment to primary care.

Already this includes the future of one of the NHS' most iconic buildings, with ministers saying the responsibility now lays with general practice.

Meetings are being held with NHS managers involving a host of GP organisations, including the GPC, the RCGP, the NAPC and Londonwide LMCs, which will now decide over huge plans for cost-cutting.

London faces the most immediate repercussions of the new coalition Government's policy, which says all major NHS reconfigurations must be halted until they meet GPs' approval.

In a debate about plans in north west London, MPs heard the plans to close the A&E department at Northwick Park hospital, in Harrow, among up to eight sights in London alone thought to be earmarked for closure by cash-strapped NHS London, would now come down to GP decision-making.

Health minister Simon Burns told MPs the hospital trust needed to 'gain the support of GPs and commissioners' if it was to win a reprieve, pledging that 'GPs, clinicians and the local council would decide what happens to the hospital.'

In a separate debate in parliament, Liberal Democrat health minister, Paul Burstow, said the fate of the famous Finsbury Health Centre, a 1938 building designed by Berthold Lubetkin - but earmarked to be replaced by a new polyclinic - would be down to GPs ‘deciding what should happens next,' adding they would have a ‘shared responsibility' with with local politicians.

Mr Burstow told the Commons PCT managers had told him it would cost them £1m a year to keep the iconic health centre open but that it could be replace it with a building costing £600,000 a year.'

He said: ‘On that basis, the NHS asserts that it would be paying a premium of £400,000 per year to keep the Finsbury health centre open,' he said.

But he minister stressed that nothing would be allowed to happen without the backing of GPs.

Hospitals' futures are now in the hands of GPs Hospitals' futures are now in the hands of GPs