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High Court quashes decision to downgrade Lewisham hospital

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt acted unlawfully when he downgraded the A&E department at Lewisham Hospital, found the High Court today.

In today’s judgment 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.

The Save Lewisham Hospital (SLH) group, led by local GP Dr Louise Irvine, challenged Mr Hunt’s decision to replace Lewisham Hospital A&E with an urgent care centre, which was based on a recommendation by a ‘trust special administrator’ looking into financial problems at the nearby South London Healthcare Trust.

In his judgment Mr Silber referred to a pledge made by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in January 2013 to Dame Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptfort, that hospital closures or reorganisations would not go ahead ‘unless they had support from the GP commissioners’.

But Lewisham CCG’s opposition to the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital A&E went unheeded by the health secretary, highlighted concerns from CCG leaders that they will not have the freedom they need to shape local services.

Dr Irvine, Lewisham GP and chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said that it was an ‘incredible day’.

She said: ‘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.

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.’

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said the ruling was ‘deeply worrying’. He added: ‘It is vital that changes to services have the confidence of the local community and the NHS staff who work there.

‘There must be an urgent review into the events that led to this situation to ensure that lessons are learned for the future.’