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Health Overview on Kingston Hospital

February 26, 2010

This must have been the longest Health Overview Panel in history. It started at 7.30 and didn’t end until half-past midnight!

Three representatives from NHS SW London and one from the NHS Kingston gave evidence for over two hours. They were quizzed by councillors, the MPs and members from a well packed public gallery including Helen Whately and Zac Goldsmith. As well as those mentioned both the Chief Executive and Board Chairman of Kingston Hospital were present to give evidence and ask questions.

It’s hard to summarise so long a meeting briefly and fairly. However some trends were apparent throughout. It was made pretty obvious from the start that the Lib Dem members had decided that the line to adopt was that the NHS reps were attempting to conceal reality from the public, which our intrepid MPs were in the process of preventing. They were not seeking information but trying to justify the actions of their party colleagues. The NHS reps had come armed with extensive documentation which they freely shared. Whatever questions were put to them, however hostile – and some were very much so (seeking to justify the ‘motion’ which was to follow?) – they answered temperately and thoroughly.

Essentially their point was that clinicians in SW London were trying to find ways in which patient care could be delivered more effectively than at present and with more effective use of scarce resources. They admitted that ‘no change was not an option’  and predicted overspends of about £300m within 6 years if nothing was done. They outlined ideas for public consultation when the clinicians work was done and also were at pains more than once to explain the status of a document the MPs had got which was labelled ‘final draft’. This document – or rather a small section of it, annotated – was presented in evidence in the documents circulated to members. The document was barely legible and its provenance uncertain, though I did think I recognised the handwriting of the notes. This was apparently a document prepared for internal NHS use whereby NHS SW London would explain to NHS London how far they had got in reviewing services in response to the Darzi report.

On the whole the assurances of the three that services at Kingston Hospital were not under threat in the way the MPs alleged were convincingly put. That certainly was the view of Cllr. Dennis Doe, with which I entirely concurred – both of us having asked questions of our own. They denied charges of secrecy, pointing out that the MPs had been briefed by them throughout as to progress.

Kingston Hospital reps suggested that much alarm had been created by the way the ‘story’ had been put into the public domain. They argued that, as Kingston was one of the biggest maternity units in SW London and very successfully so and its A&E had the largest footfall of any of the 4 hospitals in the area, it was inconceivable to them that anyone in his right mind would want to close these.

The meeting than heard from the MPs, who reiterated the contents of their website. They tried to claim credit for the fact that the meeting was taking place at all. In a sense they were right to do so as it might not have done if the story had not hit the press in such a sensational manner just before the last HOP meeting. They said they wanted the community to come together on this issue. I agreed with this line and repeated the assurances I had made on behalf of the Conservative Group and Helen Whately and Zac Goldsmith had given that we would resist closures should they be threatened. Earlier Helen had told the meeting of her contacts with Shadow Health Ministers and David Cameron who had given her assurances of support from the party leadership. In the light of this I asked Mr. Davey whether he thought that sensational leaflets about Labour closing the services and the railway station leaflet containing a puerile attack on David Cameron was the right way to get all party support for his position; if he wanted our support why not tell us what he thought he knew and ask for it? I didn’t mention the Falchikov story and, in fact, I was actually offering him an olive branch but he proceeded to hit me over the head with it, joined by Mrs. Kramer who said they had told us all they knew via their website. This, of course, depended on one’s knowing of the existence of said website which one didn’t unless one was a recipient of one of the numerous emails sent to all and sundry but not to the likes of me.  Anyway the upshot of what they both said was that they stood by the highly partisan approach they had adopted from the beginning. I conclude that talk about wanting all-party support and ‘the community coming together’ is just hooey! I am sorry to say that I further conclude that the motivation here is less about saving Kingston Hospital than about saving their parliamentary seats at the General Election. Community support is wanted only on their terms – ‘my way or no way!’

This impression was reinforced by the midnight activities of Cllrs. Jordan, Reid and Hitchcock. They had a motion to propose which they had been sitting on for well over four hours, which they ‘hoped we could support’. I asked to see it, but wasn’t shown it. Instead the Chair proposed an adjournment while they amended this motion. This was all a very irregular proceeding in this Panel which is not a decision making body and I was unable to elicit an explanation of the secrecy as to the motion’s contents, especially as it had plainly been drafted hours earlier. One suspected further Lib Dem grandstanding and one was right to do so. They eventually returned to the Chamber with’amended’ motion in hand. It was very long having a long preamble and 4 clauses to follow.  It was hurriedly proposed by Cllr. Reid and seconded by Cllr. Hitchcock. My colleagues and I had been given less than 5 minutes to study it but it was obvious that it was a crude, partisan attempt to railroad the Panel into supporting the position of the MPs as effectively proven, which it isn’t. It was insulting to the NHS SW London, accusing them of a ‘smokescreen’ (after a two hour questioning!) and bullying Kingston Hospital into keeping quiet about the closures. This last point had to be withdrawn on the plain statement by the Chairman of the Board that it was untrue and they hadn’t been bullied. The ‘motion’ as a whole was a travesty of what had taken place in the past five hours. Dennis Doe and I tried to get further parts deleted so that it stuck to known facts. We had some success but we couldn’t in conscience accept the preamble which was at the core of the railroad attempt. Accordingly we voted against the motion, which the Lib Dems carried. So we’ll have a debate about it again at full Council in March, as that was part of the motion.

The meeting rose at 12.35 a.m. or thereabouts.

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