Lewisham hospital cuts by Jeremy Hunt 'unlawful', High Court rules

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt acted unlawfully in his decision to downgrade Lewisham Hospital, a High Court judge has ruled.

Jeremy Hunt: acted 'unlawfully' over Lewisham downgrade
Jeremy Hunt: acted 'unlawfully' over Lewisham downgrade

The Hon Mr Justice Silber ruled that Mr Hunt’s decision must be ‘quashed’ as he had acted outside his powers as secretary of state, and in breach of the National Health Service Act 2006, when he told parliament that services at Lewisham Hospital would be downgraded.

GPs and other campaigners launched a High Court challenge against health secretary Jeremy Hunt this month to block plans to downgrade a London hospital.

Community campaign group Save Lewisham Hospital, chaired by Lewisham GP Dr Louise Irvine, launched a judicial review against Mr Hunt to protect A&E and maternity units at the hospital.

Dr Irvine said: ‘This is an incredible day. We are delighted for every single person who has supported the campaign and those who will now continue to benefit from this extraordinary hospital. The support from thousands of people in Lewisham is a very real demonstration of the Big Society.

‘David Cameron himself said that there would be no top-down approach to closures and we appreciate the court’s decision which should serve as a reminder to this government to not forget their promises and not to underestimate those who they seek to represent.’

Lawyers argued that the decision to cut Lewisham Hospital's services was unlawful, and that Mr Hunt acted outside his powers by approving them.

In January, Mr Hunt said the A&E unit at Lewisham Hospital would be downsized into a smaller urgent care service, and its existing consultant-led maternity replaced by a midwife-led unit.

A DH spokeswoman said: ‘This judgement applies to one aspect of a package of changes which we believe are in the best long-term interests of patients and the public across south east London.

‘As it stands, the South London Healthcare NHS Trust has been running at a loss of about £1 million a week, money that has to be diverted from frontline patient care.

‘So of course we are disappointed by this decision. We need to consider the judgment carefully, and have obtained permission to appeal.

‘We expect to continue other elements of that package of changes, including the dissolution of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, planned for 1 October, although there are a number of steps to go before that can take place.’

The administrator who first recommended the changes at Lewisham Hospital does not run the hospital. The administrator was appointed to take charge of neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust (SLHT), which runs three south east London hospitals in Bexley, Woolwich and Bromley. The move was taken last July when SLHT began losing around £1.3m a week.

Administrator Matthew Kershaw projected a £207m deficit for SLHT for the end of last financial year. Nearby Lewisham Healthcare Trust, which runs Lewisham Hospital, is currently not in deficit but Mr Kershaw projects it will return one in 2014/15.

* High Court decision on Lewisham Hospital is endorsement of commissioning

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