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Government appeals against Lewisham ruling

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The government is to appeal against a High Court ruling over a decision to cut services at Lewisham Hospital.

Health reporting HSJ and LGC logo

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt suffered defeat last month over his “unlawful” move to downgrade emergency and maternity services at the south-east London hospital, LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal reports.

The judge ruled that Mr Hunt lacked power after being told the changes would mean local people having “to travel a long, long way further to get access to vital services”.

The government lodged its appeal on August 21, the last day it could make a move to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

The health secretary was attempting to deal with problems created by the financial collapse of neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust, which went into administration after it started losing more than £1m a week.

Quashing Mr Hunt’s decision, Mr Justice Silber declared that he had breached provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006.

The ruling was a serious blow for Mr Hunt because the case involved the first legal testing of a new government procedure for dealing with failing NHS organisations - referred to as the Unsustainable Providers Regime.

Under the new regime, Mr Hunt had appointed a Trust Special Administrator (TSA) to the “very badly performing” South London Healthcare Trust.

The judge said last year the trust reported a deficit of £65m, “making it the most financially challenged trust in the NHS”. It is expected to run up an accumulated deficit of £196m by 2017.

To help deal with the problem, the special administrator recommended measures including cuts at Lewisham Hospital. Mr Hunt told Parliament in January that emergency and maternity services at the hospital would be downgraded.

Mr Hunt assured MPs the changes would improve patient care in south London, saving up to 100 lives a year, but gave an undertaking not to implement them pending the legal challenge.

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