DOCTORS and health campaigners have raised concerns over proposals to downgrade vital NHS services in London, saying they will have a serious impact on one of the most deprived areas in the city.
They said the NHS North West London’s Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF) plan, which proposes downgrades at Ealing hospital, along with vast closures at Charing Cross hospital, will do more harm than good.
The plans in northwest London have already contributed to the closure of A&Es at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals and the maternity unit at Ealing in July.
Earlier this month, a landmark report from the Independent Healthcare Commission chaired by Michael Mansfield QC said SaHF plans were “deeply flawed” and should be halted immediately.
Dr Onkar Sahota, a Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon who also Chairs the London Assembly Health Committee gave evidence to the commission.
He told Eastern Eye the changes were happening in boroughs where the “most deprived and most diverse communities” were residing in.
“We’re getting closures in Ealing, Central Middlesex, Hammersmith, Charing Cross; these are areas where there is a high migration population and higher deprivation.
“Healthcare isn’t a simple thing, very complex factors are in play. For example, people who are socially deprived are the ones who are most sick, they also are the ones who are the least able to access services.
“If you look at Ealing Hospital, the people who use it come from immigrant communities, so I think the impact will be disproportionate, particularly to people who rely on public transport, who will have to travel further.
“The A&E department is a place they can trust, they know it’s for different treatments. What people really want is a one stop one core centre where they can be seen by the most appropriate person.”
The practising GP also expressed his concerns at the inadequacy of consultation in Southall, where 80 per cent of the population were from Black and ethnic minority communities and who first language was not English.
He added many patients were unaware of what a Urgent Care Centre (UCC) was, facilities which patients could use that would help ease pressure on A & E departments.
“Different boroughs have different UCCs. They aren’t standardised, how does a patient know is it chest pain, or acid reflux?” said Dr Sahota.
“What the government is doing is closing services down without putting alternative services in the community for people to use.”
The report said the £1 billion costs of SaHF did not represent good value for money, while deprived communities will feel the brunt of the changes.
One resident from Southall told the commission: “The Ealing Hospital is providing most of the essential services to our people. It is very close to us and and is easily accessible by virtue of direct and frequent bus service.
“The overwhelming majority of the local population consists of a manual force and their medical needs are numerous. The Ealing hospital is mainly staffed with bilingual professionals hence more effective with the local patient. It is a relatively a new modern hospital and a lot of resources have been invested in it. Reducing it or demolishing it would be an inexcusable waste which no health authority can afford in these hard circumstances.”
Ramesh Verma, founder of the Ekta charity which supports elderly Asians, is concerned how the planned closures will affect those aged over 60.
“I have many friends in north west London who will be affected by this,” she told Eastern Eye.
“Loads of people from the Asian community live around that area and they have so many health problems. Ealing hospital is the main point of help for them. If the A&E is going to close it’s going to be very difficult.
“Most of them are ageing and so our population is getting older and this comes with health problems and complications.
“If somebody needs emergency treatment it will be too late to take them to an A & E which is farther away.”
Councillor Krupesh Hirani, Brent’s Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said it was wrong to shut the centres before it had first improved other services designed to relieve pressure on Accident and Emergency services.
“I’m also concerned that there isn’t a proper recognition of how quickly the population is growing, and how much NHS provision we really need,” he added.
In the report, Mansfield said: “The findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London are stark - the reforms, both proposed and implemented thus far, are deeply flawed. There is no realistic prospect of achieving good quality accessible healthcare for all, and any further implementation is likely to exacerbate a deteriorating situation.
“Our recommendations are equally stark. It is the view of the Commission that the Shaping a Healthier Future programme should be halted immediately, and that the affected councils should consider a legal challenge if it is taken forward in the current circumstances.”
A SaHF spokesperson said the programme has so far been a success.
“Patients are already seeing benefits since we started implementing our improvement programme two years ago,” the spokesperson said.
“More than a million people now have better access to GPs with more appointments available over weekdays and weekends, and we now have eleven community hubs open across North West London, which provide a range of health and social care services in one place, closer to people’s homes.
“Part of the improvement plan includes additional investment to modernise and increase capacity in our hospitals and community sites. This will help the NHS provide the best possible care to our local communities.”