THE government has this evening passed a clause which could see underperforming hospital trusts downgraded or closed within 40 days.
The controversial Clause 119 ‘hospital closure clause’ of the Care Bill was approved as 297 ministers voted in favour, while 239 voted against it.
It gives health secretary Jeremy Hunt greater powers to intervene, downgrade or close hospital services – including those trusts with financial problems, or looking at a region if one trust is failing.
MP Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, had asked for an amendment, which would mean local commissioning groups could veto such plans – but this was not accepted.
Councillor Will Purvis, a governor for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT), which runs Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, said: ‘We were hoping the amendment would have been taken into consideration, as these decisions are supposed to be about democracy – except for exceptional circumstances.
‘It’s completely wrong for any secretary of state to be able to make such a decision without consulting the community.’
According to the Labour party there are 30 hospital trusts that are ‘at risk’ because they are cash-strapped – including PHT.
Cllr Purvis added: ‘I’m not concerned about PHT because it has a strategy and the Clinical Commissioning Groups are committed to it.
‘In the short term I see no reason to worry.’
The clause was written following Mr Hunt’s attempts to close maternity and emergency services at Lewisham hospital in south London last year.
He tried to make the change after neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust went into administration, but was told he could not by the court of appeal.
This clause was drawn up in response to this.
It means Trust Special Administrators who take over any failing NHS trusts in England can push through whatever other local changes they think are necessary, although they will have to consult the public, commissioners and staff.