by Daphne Liddle

ACCIDENT and emergency (A&E) units are being closed or threatened with closure all around the country and being replaced with general practitioner- led urgent care units for minor injuries.

Meanwhile emergency ambulance cases are having to travel ever further to fewer and fewer A&E units that are already struggling to cope.

Soon only patients whose lives are in immediate danger will be admitted to A&E units while all other injuries will be sent to the lesser urgent care units.

Though sometimes it is not easy to tell at first if an injury is life threatening — putting a huge burden of judgement on the shoulders of ambulance workers, meaning patients could end up being shipped from one hospital to another — and longer journeys lessen the chances of survival.

Last week a joint committee of primary health care trusts — about to be scrapped — met in Westminster and endorsed plans to close four A&E units, at Charing Cross, Central Middlesex, Hammersmith and Ealing hospitals.

Life-threatening emergencies will instead be referred to A&Es at Hillingdon, Northwick Park, West Middlesex, Chelsea and NHS North West London said the changes would save money and improve care.

It said the move would address the increase in non-acute cases arriving at A&Es, an ageing population with longterm conditions and the drop in the quality of care received in hospitals at night and at weekends.

Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter said the decision left a “second-class health service for millions of Londoners” and that the A&Es left would be “over-crowded and over-run”.

Julian Bell, leader of Labour- run Ealing Council said: “We are going to fight this decision all the way.” He said statutory powers would be used to refer the decision to the secretary of state for health.

Ealing, Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals will be downgraded to GP-led social care hospitals with an urgent care centre.

The hospitals will also lose vital clinical services, leaving three of the eight boroughs and nearly two million people without a major hospital.

Ealing will lose 327 beds, maternity, paediatrics and other major services. A new smaller hospital may be built so land from the old one can be sold off.

Local GP Onkar Sahota, who is also a Labour member of the Greater London Assembly and chairs Save Our Hospitals, Ealing, said:

“With A&E admissions consistently rising by three per cent a year it’s ridiculous to start closing major hospitals in densely populated places such as Ealing.”

Dr Stephen Ash, chair of the Medical Staff Committee, said: “This strategy will reduce local services and relocate them to central London hospitals.

“Sick patients will need to be transferred many miles by road, causing critical delays in their treatment.

“Local people will also have dramatically reduced access to a lower number of centralised services and beds to treat them.”

John Chase, 71, of Queens Gardens, Pitshanger, who regularly attends Ealing Hospital, said: “I was very, very unwell two years ago. The fact that I was able to go immediately to Ealing Hospital and be seen within minutes meant that my life was saved.

“We should be getting improved services, offering high quality locally based care that everyone can get to easily, not cutting back.”

The Save Our Services at Ealing Hospital campaign group, backed by The Ealing Gazette, is calling on everyone in the borough to sign a petition and make their voices heard in opposition to these proposals.

There are similar closures, cuts and downgrades planned throughout the country: in Bristol, Scarborough, St Helier, Lewisham and many other places throughout the country.

Local populations are responding angrily with mass marches, pickets and vigils. George Hallam, one of the organisers of the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital last Saturday told the New Worker that their campaign is continuing in many arenas, including the law courts and in reassuring staff that the campaign is fighting to ensure their jobs.

“There is a tendency when a unit is threatened with closure that staff start looking for other jobs. And when they go it is nearly impossible to recruit replacements for a unit that everyone thinks is going to close. Then the unit starts to run down, and is easier to close.

“We have to reassure staff that if they stay loyal to their jobs we will fight and defend their jobs and there is a better chance of preventing the closure.”