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Council challenges hospital downgrading

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Lewisham LBC has begun legal action over plans to downgrade a local hospital.

Health reporting HSJ and LGC logo

Under plans announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Lewisham hospital will be downgraded using failure regime legislation. It means the London hospital will keep most of its A&E service but will lose some maternity services.

However, the local authority has started the process to challenge the downgrading.

In a pre-action letter sent to Mr Hunt, the council said: “The council’s firm view, on legal advice, is that the trust special administrator (TSA) had no power under the relevant statutory regime, to consider, or to make recommendations to you about, services provided by any NHS body other than South London Healthcare, the Trust to which you appointed him. It follows from this that you, in making a decision on the TSA’s recommendations, had no power to make a decision which purports to affect the operation of Lewisham Hospital.”

The letter gives Mr Hunt until 22 February to withdraw his decision affecting Lewisham Hospital. If he does not then the council will seek judicial review of the decision. The council has also sent a similar letter to the administrator Matthew Kershaw.

Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) said: “Jeremy Hunt’s decision to press ahead with the downgrade of Lewisham Hospital’s maternity and emergency services was a kick in the stomach for Lewisham’s community.

Under Mr Hunt’s measures, the £447m-turnover South London Healthcare will be dissolved, split into three, have its historic debt paid off and receive government support for its private finance initiative payments.

Mr Hunt told the House of Commons he had accepted the proposals on the condition that Lewisham would still have an accident and emergency with “24/7 senior medical cover”, rather than the urgent care centre proposed by special administrator Matthew Kershaw.

The size of the unit, the conditions it will treat, its cost and the effects of the downgrade on co-dependent services at Lewisham are not known.

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