Conservative Home

« Andrew Lilico: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - Alas! I must ask you to vote against this mess! | Main | Mark Field MP: Bash the banks and global companies if you must, but we need them more than ever »

Jeremy Hunt: Labour's reaction to Lewisham A & E shows the NHS isn't safe in their hands

HUNT JEREMY OPEN NECKED SHIRTJeremy Hunt is the Member of Parliament for South West Surrey and Secretary of State for Health. Follow Jeremy on Twitter.

Sometimes an opposition makes a transition from opposition for opposition's sake to being a government-in-waiting. That is the moment of maximum danger for a government seeking re-election. However, Labour's reaction to my decision on Lewisham hospital last week shows they are going headlong in the opposite direction.

A simple look at the facts would tell you this was a problem over which they should have shown some humility. 

South London Healthcare Trust was set up under the last Government to solve long-standing financial problems. Instead, they left it with a deficit of around £65m per annum  - more than £1m every week being drained from frontline services to support a deficit. Two PFIs signed by Labour between them account for around £60m of cost every year in the Trust.

The solution I proposed did not involve the closure of Lewisham A & E, although that was on the table. But it does remove the deficit, meaning that money can go back into frontline patient care. It also saves around 100 lives a year by concentrating the care for a few more complex conditions - pneumonia, meningitis, broken hips - in specialist hospitals nearby. This was what Labour did with stroke care, reducing the number of London hospitals dealing with strokes from 32 to 8 and halving the stroke mortality rate in the process.

You would not expect local MPs most directly affected to be able to support controversial service changes at their local hospital (although Phillip Lee in Bracknell is an honourable exception). But a serious opposition would at least acknowledge the difficulties and indeed its responsibility for the problem.

Instead, what did we hear from Andy Burnham?

He said the decision had been "cobbled a matter of days." In fact the process started last July and strictly followed a timetable and procedure that Labour put on the statute book in 2009.

He positioned himself as against any A & E closure in the country - even though Labour closed or downgraded 12 when in office, nearly one a year, and he acknowledged in 2010 that "Improving the quality, safety and overall patient experience means accepting that services will need to change in this decade." 

He criticised changing the maternity unit to being midwife-led - even though Labour did as much in 9 hospitals when in office.

Then the man who opposed our increases in the NHS budget - and still wants to cut it from its current levels (as he confirmed just before Christmas) said this was an example of "the moneymen and not the medics...calling the shots."

All without a single suggestion as to what Labour would have done. Nowhere.

Playing to the gallery may make you feel good on a march in Lewisham, but if this is the quality of Labour's opposition, the NHS is not safe in their hands. And it will fall to this government to continue making the difficult decisions necessary to ensure higher levels of care and treatment despite the challenges of an ageing population and constrained finances. 


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.