Planned hospital closures in the borough will hit the poor and vulnerable people the hardest, says Jim Grealy, spokesperson for the Save Our Hospitals campaign group.
The initiatives for the hospitals in the borough are being introduced by the NHS North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups, under the name ‘Shaping Healthier Futures’ (SHF). The plan is to reduce nine hospitals to five major ones, by removing the A&E departments from some hospitals to classify them as ‘local’ hospitals, or closing them altogether.
The proposals, first announced in 2012, began with the controversial closure of the A&E facilities at Hammersmith Hospital in 2014. More elements of the scheme will be phased in, stage by stage, over the next 7 years.
The Save Our Hospitals campaign started three years ago, and Jim Grealy became the “spearhead” of the campaign 6 months after its inception. He attends all meetings about the SHF plans with the Imperial College Trust who run the hospitals in the borough, and describes them as “opponents, but not enemies” with regards to their stance on the future of the hospitals.
At a council forum meeting attended by Grealy, both Labour and Conservative councillors raised objections to SHF based on the impractical move to close Hammersmith hospital’s A&E department. “When people needed treatment they had to travel to Ealing or Wembley, and lots of them have no money to afford a taxi”, explains Grealy. “The facility that was closed is in the very poorest part of the local borough, and we all agreed that is a bizarre thing to do”.
Vulnerable patients such as the elderly and chronically ill will also be affected by the hospital closures, as one of SHF’s plans is to cut the amount of hospital beds to “save space and improve hospital turnaround time”. By reducing the number of beds, patients will have shorter hospital stays allowing for a higher turnover of patients. However, for the ill and vulnerable the problem will lie with the lack of care available to them after they leave.
Grealy says: “When I first heard about the idea of SHF I thought it sounded great, but the reality is the social care budget has been cut utterly drastically”. There are only a “tiny number” of social care nurses left in West London in permanent jobs as a consequence of the cuts, so patients who need extra care after discharge may not be able to get it. The number of social care nurses in permanent jobs in London has dropped from 10,000 to around 2,000, a figure which is reflected in the borough.
Save Our Hospitals are campaigning for the SHF plans to be reviewed to take into account population growth in the borough and the bed crisis, but Grealy stresses that Imperial College Trust and SHF must acknowledge the serious social care issues. “The plan can’t go ahead without more serious thought about our society and social care”, he repeats: “Those are our demands”.