‘Dangerous and flawed’: sacked minister Paul Burstow’s verdict on hospital cuts

Former health minister Paul Burstow launched a withering attack today on “dangerous” plans to cut hospital services in London.

07 September 2012

Hours after losing his government job, he told the Standard that a plan to axe a casualty and maternity unit in south-west London put patient safety at risk. In a wide-ranging interview the Liberal Democrat MP urged new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to “bin” the proposals, and warned they were likely to lead to “more mothers giving birth in the back of their car”.

He also proposed changes to stop rail fares from spiralling.

Mr Burstow, 50, was born at St Helier hospital, which serves his Sutton and Cheam constituency but is now set to lose its A&E and maternity units under plans drawn up by health chiefs.

He dismissed the strategy as fundamentally flawed and warned it would also damage health services in Kingston and Croydon, as their hospitals would have to cope with more patients.

The key mistake, he stressed, was “the underlying assumption that 60 per cent of people who currently go to emergency departments in south-west London don’t need to be there”. No other area of the country had been able to achieve anywhere near such a reduction, he emphasised.

The former minister also accused local health bosses of failing to draw up convincing plans to care for patients who currently go to casualty at St Helier, should the unit be closed.

“It’s dangerous,” he said. “Their proposals will remove A&E capacity despite the fact that all the A&E departments in south-west London are very busy.”

Mr Burstow said maternity units in the area were already struggling to cope with the number of births, with St George’s Hospital in Tooting recently having to turn away expectant mothers.

“The idea that you can solve these problems by reducing capacity really just beggars belief,” he added.

He also dismissed as “laughable” the claim that mothers-to-be would be able to reach other hospitals swiftly, highlighting local road congestion. The MP believes town halls will eventually refer the shake-up to Mr Hunt, who took over as Health Secretary from Andrew Lansley in this week’s reshuffle.

“I hope when it lands on his desk, he consigns it to the trash bin,” Mr Burstow added.

He said health chiefs should focus on making existing hospitals viable rather than cutting services.

Mr Burstow denied he could have better influenced the decision if he had managed to cling onto his health post, insisting he would have been excluded from deciding on his local hospital’s fate because it would have been a conflict of interest.

Amid anger among commuters at fare rises of up to 11 per cent this January, he urged the Government to consider scrapping the formula that leads to such eye-watering increases.

He proposed that it could be based on the Consumer Price Index measure  of inflation, which excludes some housing costs, rather than the Retail Price Index, which tends to be higher.

His proudest achievement in government, he said, was the expansion of talking therapy services for children with mental health problems.



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