LABOUR’S Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said yesterday that London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital could face closure.
She was being interviewed about her decision to carry out a Department of Health (DoH) and Treasury review of the £1.1bn Royal London Hospital Trust rebuilding project. This is a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme.
Bart’s, which is a part of the Royal London Hospital Trust, has world-famous cardiac and cancer centres.
Hewitt said: ‘By the end of this month, we will have a report of a very fast review, specifically on the issue of the cancer and cardiac services.
‘It makes sense to us to double check we are getting what we need.’
She admitted that the review was about both health and economic issues.
Hewitt claimed that waiting lists had been cut and there were ‘significant changes’ since the planning of the rebuilding project began.
She added: ‘We have to make sure we are getting the right hospital facilities, particularly for patients in east London, where there are several other hospitals.
‘We are commissioning this very fast independent review for both cardiac and cancer services.
‘There are other hospitals as well providing both cardiac and cancer specialist treatment.
‘We need to make sure that across this part of London we have got the right hospital facilities for our patients, but also facilities that the taxpayers, who fund the NHS, can afford over the next 30 years.’
The implication was clear – other hospitals could provide the services based at Bart’s and that the £1.6bn project was too expensive.
This was Hewitt’s response to a letter signed by 1,000 doctors at the Royal London and Bart’s demanding that the rebuilding programme must go ahead.
The Health Secretary admitted: ‘It has gone through all local processes and has not been approved by the DoH. It came to us in September.’
Hewitt’s decision comes at a time when the depth of the funding crisis facing NHS hospitals is growing daily.
It is projected that hospitals will be in debt to the tune of £948 million by the end of the financial year, in March.
Hospitals have axed staff numbers, beds and operating theatres in desperate moves to get out of debt.
In addition, a study by the Treasury, leaked to the Financial Times, says that spending on the NHS, which is currently increasing by seven per cent a year, will be cut back to rising by only 2.9 per cent after 2008.
Yet, the leasing payments on PFI hospitals will have to come out of the revenue funds of NHS hospital trusts for many years to come.
Hospital closures are part of the Labour government’s strategy to block patients getting into hospitals by insisting on ‘care in the community’.
Many elective operations are to be funded from the NHS budget, but are to be channelled into ‘treatment centres’ run by private medical corporations.