LEWISHAM HOSPITAL CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after the High Court found that Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt MP had acted outside his powers – and therefore unlawfully – in deciding to substantially cut services and close departments at Lewisham hospital.
In a judgment Mr Justice Silber said the decision of the Secretary of State must be “quashed” as he had acted outside his powers as secretary of state, and in breach of the National Health Service Act 2006, when he announced to Parliament that services at Lewisham hospital would be downgraded and closed.
Law firm Leigh Day, representing the Save Lewisham Campaign Group, successfully argued that the decision of the secretary of state was unlawful. They also successfully argued that the decision of the trust special administrator, the first to be appointed under new health service guidance, was also unlawful.
The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign made up of and supported by patients, community groups, GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in Lewisham was formed in 2012, in response to the South London Healthcare trust special administrator (TSA) Mathew Kershaw’s proposal that, as part of the cost saving measures put forward for the neighbouring trust, South London Healthcare NHS trust, that services at Lewisham Hospital should be reduced.
Despite being appointed TSA for the South London Healthcare trust, in his final report to the secretary of state in January 2013, Mr Kershaw not only proposed changes to South London Healthcare Trust but also to Lewisham Healthcare Trust, in particular to Lewisham hospital which it runs.
Mr Kershaw proposed that the hospital should close and downgrade some of its services, including its A&E department, acute admitting wards and adult intensive care unit. He also suggested the maternity service at the hospital should be downgraded or closed completely.
These recommendations were made despite widespread agreement that Lewisham hospital was a high achieving and popular hospital not in financial difficulty.
Save Lewisham Hospital campaign argued to the TSA at the time, that the alternative health care options proposed would have been extremely difficult for residents to access.
But on 31 January 2013 Mr Hunt, announced to parliament that he accepted the TSA’s recommendations about South London Healthcare trust including the recommendation to reconfigure NHS services ‘beyond the confines of SLHT, across all of South East London including Lewisham.’
The High Court found that “the TSA did not have vires [the power] to make his recommendations relating to Lewisham hospital; That the secretary of state did not have vires to make his decision relating to Lewisham hospital – and therefore the decision of the secretary of state insofar as it related to Lewisham hospital must be quashed as must the recommendations of the TSA also insofar as they relate to Lewisham hospital.’
Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day, who represented the Save Lewisham Hospital Group said: “When the secretary of state appointed the TSA to investigate and develop recommendations on the future of South London Healthcare NHS trust, he promised 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 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.”
Dr Louise Irvine, local GP who chairs the Save Lewisham hospital campaign, said that she had been overwhelmed by the support from people around the UK:
“This is an incredible day. “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.
“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.”