The Royal College of Midwives has joined campaigners and local politicians in criticising Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's decision to dissolve the South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT).

With PFI debts mounting, Mr Hunt has decided the three SLHT hospitals (Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, Queen Mary's in Sidcup and the Princess Royal in Bromley) will be taken over by a neighbouring hospital trust.

Lewisham's maternity unit will be downgraded, meaning local expectant mothers will be admitted to a maternity-led unit, with more serious and complicated births diverted to neighbouring hospitals, such as King's.

Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall, says downgrading maternity services at Lewisham will have an impact on hospitals like St Thomas's, which serves her constituency.

Her fears were echoed by RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick who said: "Whilst we are pleased to see that a  midwife-led unit will remain in Lewisham and that there will be midwife-led units at the other sites, along with obstetric services, we remain deeply concerned about the consequences of this decision for the remaining maternity services in south east London.  

"London’s birthrate is continuing to rise and the occasions on which maternity units in the area have had to temporarily close or suspend services is a worry. There are obviously capacity issues already and this may simply exacerbate them."

The Secretary of State said he understood the financial rationale for downgrading Lewisham A&E, but in the interests of local patients has imposed some additional clinical safeguards proposed by Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the NHS.

Lewisham Hospital will retain its ability to admit patients with less serious conditions, and will continue to have 24/7 senior medical emergency cover, allowing it to remain open as a working A&E department.

However, Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock says he plans to appeal the decision which he believes the Health Secretary should not have been able to make.

“The Secretary of State is riding roughshod over the people of Lewisham,” he said.  “These plans have been roundly rejected by local people, by the staff who work in the hospital and by local GPs. But let me be clear, this is not the end of the matter.

“I do not believe that the TSA had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the Secretary of State therefore has no power to implement them. I will be talking to our lawyers and we will also of course need to talk to our colleagues at Lewisham Hospital in order to fully understand the implications of Mr Hunt’s statement.”

The Save Lewisham A&E Campaign has urged supporters to gather at the hospital from 17:30 onwards to protest the decision, in what chair Louise Irvine pledged will be "the biggest-ever defence of a local hospital".

For those unable to attend and wishing to support the campaign you can use the hashtag #lewishambles on Twitter

Posted 31/1/13 by penny.hosie@pavpub.com