Jeremy Hunt takes Lewisham hospital reform battle to court of appeal

Jeremy Hunt takes Lewisham hospital reform battle to court of appeal

A long-running battle over NHS services in south-east London reached the court of appeal on Monday as the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tried to overthrow a judge's ruling that his attempts to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham hospital broke the law.


The cuts were put forward as part of a package to remedy the financial problems of the neighbouring South London Healthcare trust (SLHT), which was losing more than £1m a week.


But Hunt's approval of a shakeup of services was torpedoed by the high court in the summer when Mr Justice Silber said the health secretary and his special administrator for the trust, Matthew Kershaw, had exceeded their powers under the 2006 National Health Services Act.


The decision put a question mark over the way the government is able to deal with failing NHS organisations, and campaigners claim ministers are already having to clarify their powers through further legislation.


Hunt argues that he and the adminstrator had the necessary powers to change services at Lewisham, despite Kershaw being instructed to investigate a neighbouring trust. Lewisham hospital is not part of SLHT.


Rory Phillips QC, for Hunt and Kershaw, said any solution to dealing with the problems of SHLT had to take into account the wider context of the NHS "machine". He argued that Silber had adopted too narrow a view of the legislation. Phillips said the support of GP commissioners for the change – they disagreed with the Lewisham proposals – was not a legal requirement.


The case before Lord Dyson, master of the rolls, sitting with Lord Justices Sullivan and Underhill, is expected to take two days.


Louise Irvine, a local GP and chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said before the hearing: "The clinical and economic evidence shows that we have right on our side. We hope that the court of appeal will prove that we continue to have a legal right to save Lewisham hospital too."



By James Meikle


The Guardian, 28th October 2013



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