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Health and Hospitals

Many constituents have written to and phoned us expressing concerns about the future of Maternity Care and A&E at Kingston Hospital, following the suggestion from the Lib Dem MPs from the Borough that they might be about to close. I reproduce here the full text of the NHS letter to all stakeholders dealing with their allegation and a letter released by Helen Whately, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Kingston and Surbiton.

27 January 2010: from the Chair of NHS Richmond and Sector Chair of NHS South West London

Dear Sir/Madam

No change is not an option in south west London’s NHS

Local Liberal Democrats Edward Davey MP and Susan Kramer MP have made claims that NHS organisations in south west London are considering an option to close the maternity and A&E at Kingston Hospital.

Healthcare for South West London strongly refutes any claims that there are secret plans to close A&E or maternity units at Kingston Hospital or any hospital.

Yes, clinicians are clear that there are significant challenges to the NHS in future years. Rising birth rates, an older population, increasing costs of drugs and treatments and, if we do nothing – big increases in the prevalence of long-term conditions will all test the NHS to the limit.

Clinicians are also clear that no change is not an option and we need to look at how healthcare services are provided across the sector to deliver higher-quality care and ensure our services are sustainable in future.

But in response to media requests, clinical directors Dr Howard Freeman, Dr Martyn Wake and Gavin Marsh said:

“This work is at an early stage and has not considered any specific sites for closure nor have we agreed any numbers of hospitals that will be required to deliver A&E, maternity, complex surgery, critical care or specialist children’s care.”

Over the past few months we have regularly briefed MPs, councils, patient groups and others on the work of clinicians – who have been asked to look at how we can improve services for patients. This review is not secret.

The clinicians from across the area are leading the work. They have told us that we must improve the quality of care for local people and look at new ways of delivering care, such as providing better access to urgent care at hospital and in the community. Providing high quality, sustainable and clinically viable healthcare services will necessitate changes at every site, but we do not have worked up plans for how we deliver this.

There is a lot of work to be done over the coming months to look at best practice, how different specialties could relate to each other and, at some point in the future, what this might mean for hospitals in south west London.

The outcomes of the clinical working group discussions on the case for change are to be published in February. These have already been discussed with patient representatives.

Please find attached the briefing pack on these issues that was circulated to PCT Chief Executives in order to inform their discussions with MPs, councils, patient groups and key stakeholders; along with various background documents that explain the work to date.

If you would like to discuss this issue further please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Sian Bates

Chair of NHS Richmond and sector chair of NHS South West London

Now the full text of the letter from Helen Whately:

Local Lib Dem MPs have launched a campaign to ‘Save Kingston Hospital’. Like the staff, patients and many residents I have heard from in the last few days, I am concerned about any possibility that the hospital might be threatened.

I assure you, if Kingston Hospital is under threat I will fight to protect it and the vital services it provides. I will also have the backing of the Conservative party nationally.

Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary, has confirmed to me that if we form the next Government, we will impose an immediate moratorium on proposed closures of A&E and maternity units across the country, including those that may be in the pipeline at Kingston. David Cameron has promised to stop Labour’s forced closure of A&E and maternity units.

The hospital’s management and the NHS in South West London have refuted the Lib Dem claim stating that “there are no secret plans to close A&E or maternity units at Kingston Hospital”. I attended the hospital’s board meeting on Wednesday 27th January, and heard the Chief Executive and Chairman both criticise this campaign, describing it as ‘irresponsible’. They are concerned that it is being stirred up for political purposes, without thinking of the impact on staff, recruitment (just when the hospital needs more midwives) and patients.

It is vital that hospital staff are able to continue delivering the best possible care for local people without the turmoil of a campaign to save the hospital if this is not a real threat. What the hospital needs at this time is an end to rumours, a focus on the facts, and support from the local community. I had my son George there 18 months ago, and I will be supporting the hospital, whatever happens.

The facts as far as I know, are that there is a review of healthcare going on in SW London, and that could result in a consultation on sites being launched in December 2010 or early 2011 – but nothing will happen before the election. The risk would be after the election, if Labour is still in power and squeezing NHS finances. Unlike Gordon Brown (and the Lib Dems), David Cameron has committed to increasing NHS spending and reinvesting efficiency savings in patient care. The best possible security for the future of the NHS is a Conservative Government.

I have pressed the hospital and local NHS to be more transparent in their communications as it’s vital we are kept informed about the prospects for the hospital. Please check my website for updates,

With my very best wishes,

Helen Whately

From Hansard, quoting the recent debate in the House of Commons:-

Let me go through what is happening, but before that, I should like to begin by recognising the hard work and dedication of the clinicians and staff at Kingston hospital and throughout south-west London.


Michael Penning): I thank the Minister for giving way. I am conscious that I am taking up time, which was not allowed to me by the Liberal Democrats, to talk about my visit to Kingston hospital last week. The staff there are dedicated and professional, and it was a fantastic hospital to visit. It was obvious, however, that morale had been affected by this cynical campaign, and that the staff were worried about what is going to happen. The campaign, which has been conducted for cynical purposes on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, has affected the staff at the hospital.



Mike O’Brien (Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health; North Warwickshire, Labour): It is little wonder that some members of the public have become cynical about politicians, when we hear what we have just heard in the debate.

The local community is rightly proud of Kingston hospital, and it sits within an area that has worked hard to improve the health of its population. NHS services in south-west London and across the capital have seen great improvements in recent years. The hon. Gentleman suggested that that was all down to himself and the hon. Member for Richmond Park; I suggest that it has something to do with the investment that this Government have put in. No credit was given for that in their speeches, however; there was just a bit of party political knockabout from both hon. Members during the debate. Again, that is just a sad reflection on them.

The NHS in London has improved access to GP services and community health services, reduced waiting times in accident and emergency, and transformed cardiac services. This is certainly a success story, but it is only the beginning. Access to primary care needs to be further improved, to reduce the reliance on accident and emergency departments. The NHS faces increased demand for maternity and children’s services, and it must, as the hon. Lady suggested, respond to that challenge, ensuring that those services are adequately staffed by properly trained professionals.

Today, advances in medicine and technology mean that more and more patients can be treated and cared for in their own homes and communities. We can do better for the people of south-west London, and the central question here is how that should be done. That is why five clinical groups have been working, as both hon. Members well know, to review the clinical evidence-I emphasise that it is clinical evidence-from doctors and other NHS professionals for changing health care services, so that we can better meet local needs. Clinicians have identified a case for improvement. Ministers and officials in the Department of Health have not seen that work by those five clinical groups. It is being done locally in order to try to evaluate the best service for the NHS in that area. It is not-I emphasise this point, because it was one of the hon. Members’ outrageous claims-some secret Labour plan or plot to reduce services. Far from it, over the coming months clinicians will refine their ideas and start to think about how the challenges that I have identified can be addressed.

Clinicians have identified other areas for further work, such as the provision of diagnostics in community and children’s palliative care. It is anticipated that the clinical working groups will identify a range of options in the summer of 2010 to provide a clinically and financially viable health care service for south-west London. That will form the basis of further discussion between clinicians, patients and stakeholders with a view to making some proposals. I have not been party to that, nor has the Department of Health, so the claim made by both hon. Members that we have a political agenda is a complete cynical invention. The only agenda is the open Darzi agenda of trying to improve health care in London, based on the clinical need to improve the quality of care.



Stewart Jackson (- Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Peterborough, Conservative): Does the Minister agree that the Liberal Democrats have form in this area? Does he recollect that Mr. Leech campaigned against the “imminent” closure of the Christie hospital in Manchester five years ago? Funnily enough, that hospital is still open.



Mike O’Brien: It is indeed still there, and the Liberal Democrats have a record of running scare stories and asking people to join the campaign by sending in their addresses, petitions and email addresses. They can then canvas those people-it is all about elections.

The hon. Members mentioned a document, but I have never seen this document. I also asked my officials this morning, and apparently no one in the Department of Health has seen it either. I do not doubt that there is a document, but it is being dealt with locally by the five groups of clinicians that I have mentioned. I gather that it is also being dealt with by the NHS in south-west London. I am told that it is very tentative, unformed and informal. It is certainly no Government plan or a final document in any sense. It is part of a discussion that may lead to some conclusions at some point, perhaps at the end of the year or next year, when some further discussions and engagement with stakeholders might arise. The hon. Members know about that process because they have been briefed on it repeatedly by officials, so there is nothing secretive about it.

The clinicians are trying to have a discussion without politicians coming in and stirring up unjustified allegations that all the services are now somehow under threat. The discussions are about how the services can be improved. As for cuts, the NHS PCTs will get a 5.5 per cent. overall increase in funding next year and the same this year. I simply do not accept the argument that large cuts are needed, as suggested by the hon. Members. Yes, NHS managers have been asked to find savings. Yes, they have been asked to identify where money can be found-not to make cuts, but to redirect the funding into better services for the people who elect those two hon. Members.


Michael Penning): Does the Minister agree that it would have been very easy for other political parties, not least my own, to jump on the Liberal Democrats’ bandwagon of scaremongering? As he knows, I have campaigned against Labour cuts on many occasions, but when there has been proper information and documentation. Has scaring the electorate at this stage damaged the consultation or enhanced it?



Mike O’Brien: At the moment, some clinicians and managers are meeting and asking, “What are the options here? How can we improve services? How can we ensure that we deal with some of the very serious issues in relation to health care that need to be addressed in south-west London?” We can have a big argument in the media, with every clinician being frightened to speak because the moment they say anything, they will be attacked by the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Kingston and Surbiton for cynical political advantage, but then where will we get to with the NHS? It will be frozen in aspic, improvements will not be able to take place and there will not be proper discussion of health care.

We need to give clinicians and others room to talk through the options, and when there is some view about what those options might possibly be, they can then come forward and engage seriously with stakeholders. In due course, when there are proposals, they can be properly discussed, but we are a considerable distance from that.

I spoke this morning to Kevin Maguire, the respected Daily Mirror political journalist. He told me to check what was going on, and I had a look on his Twitter page. I know that we all need to be careful about Twitter, but apparently he was sitting on a train and updating it. I shall read through what his page said, as he suggested I should. First, he wrote:

“On train a bloke’s boasting on mobile he got Evening Standard to claim Lab has secret plans to shut Kingston Hospital“.

The next post was:

“Train bloke now boasting the hospital scare story cooked up at his kitchen table. Very proud of Facebook following”.


“He’s ‘a manifesto to write’. Tory? Wearing Hibs scarf. Clocking his details. May sneak photo to track down. Or could always ask!”

The next post begins, “Name’s Dan”, and then gives part of his telephone number and continues:

“Wondering if he’s a Lib Dem.”

The next post reads:

“Got Hospital Closure Man’s pic. Going into meeting then will discover who Dan is”.

Then the next one:

“This is the Kingston hospital scare bloke. Anyone know him? He’s a loud mouth in public places”.

And then:

“Ta all Tweeters. Hospital phone man ID’d as Lib Dem activist Dan Falchikov. He should stop SHOUTING on train”.

I bet the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Kingston and Surbiton wish he would stop shouting on trains, because it appears to have disclosed the nature of what is going on here.


Edward Davey: Will the Minister give way?



Mike O’Brien: Only if the hon. Gentleman plans to accept that that gentleman is indeed a Liberal Democrat, and indeed that he and the hon. Member for Richmond Park have been winding this up. They were approached by NHS officials who explained what was going on. It was explained to them properly, honestly and openly that there were going to be discussions. Papers will be circulated, and the one that they have may be one of them-I do not know, I have not seen it. It certainly is not Labour or the Department of Health that is putting it forward.


Mike O’Brien (Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health; North Warwickshire, Labour): Thank you for allowing me to respond to the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agree with one word that Mr. Davey used; he said that this was outrageous. Susan Kramer also used the word. It is outrageous: here we have a cynical winding-up of the electorate, and it is very sad to see.

The Letter the ‘Comet’ didn’t publish

Dear Sir,

If Mr. Davey or Ms. Kramer wanted Conservative support for their ‘campaign’ on Kingston Hospital they should have asked for it, which they didn’t. Instead they put out a leaflet at certain railway stations which contained on the reverse side a puerile attack on David Cameron, replete with the usual quotes out of context and bits carefully cut from newspapers designed, one supposes, to give the impression that, somehow, the Tories were going to close the hospital services. We also have the evidence from the Daily Mirror correspondent of Mr. Falchikov boasting that the whole thing had been cooked up on his kitchen table.

All this creates an atmosphere of scepticism as to the altruism of the Lib Dems and is, at best, a strange way to go about looking for cross-party support.
The letter from NHS SW London is quite explicit on the issue, so is the statement from Kate Grimes, specifically on the issue of the ‘cover-up’. I confess to being somewhat amazed that the letter from NHS SW London has not been published in full by the Liberal Democrats, they have rather tended to ignore it. So who’s covering up what and why?

I gave my Group’s assurance at Health Overview Panel and Helen Whately and Zac Goldsmith have given written assurances that any attempt to close these services will be fiercely resisted by the Conservative Party.

Finally if Mr. Davey and Ms. Kramer wanted our support on a matter of community concern in which they were in the position of knowing something we didn’t know, they could have done what we usually do in such circumstances – and asked for it.

Paul Johnston

Conservative Cllr for Surbiton Hill Ward RBK

Shadow Exec. Member for Health and Community Services, Co-Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group

Dated: 23rd February 2010


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