Today marks the implementation of another ill informed, politically motivated decision that will erode the quality of service and care for West Londoners; and one that will compound the organisational chaos caused by the botched implementation of the Health and Social Care Act. The closure of two Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments in North West London is yet another sad milestone in the Government's 'reorganisation' of the NHS, with two more closures to follow in the coming months.
The plan for West London is the largest A&E department closure in NHS history, with an unprecedented four out of nine A&E departments in North West London due for closure meaning a huge loss of beds. Ealing, Brent and Hammersmith, an area with the same population as Leeds, will be left without any A&E facilities at all.
As I have argued throughout, the Government's decision to close both Central Middlesex and Hammersmith's A&E departments amounts to little more than an experiment in health care provision, with no safe guards, contingency or protection for the lives of those who depend on these services.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent inspector of hospitals, last month released a shock report into the North West London Hospital Trust, highlighting the stress the system is already under. When Central Middlesex Hospital closes, its A&E provision will be diverted to the underperforming and overworked A&E facilities at neighbouring Northwick Park Hospital. The CQC's report rated the A&E unit at Central Middlesex as 'good', while grading Northwick Park as 'requires improvement', and found "inadequate staffing levels to provide safe care to patients within the majors treatment area" at Northwick Park. The Health Secretary knows this, and so does our Mayor Boris Johnson, but despite this, neither has lifted a finger to protect the existing good A&Es.
In London, since the abolition of the strategic Health Board, leadership and coordination in our health provision has been left to chance. The Mayor has failed to show any leadership or responsibility on this issue. It is his statuary role to reduce inequalities yet, he has only had a strategy for two of the six years he has been in power. Indeed, he has never lobbied to save a hospital, and did not bother replying to my letter appealing for his help over these A&E closures.
The state of the NHS is worrying. We are already beginning to see similar stresses of the old underfunded NHS - waiting times going up, a lack of beds, poor care from over worked doctors and nurses, and ambulance waiting times going up.
As a GP, I know and recognise these pressures, and I can feel the system creaking under the strain of an effective funding cut and lack of strategic direction.
With London's population due to grow by 1.2m by 2020, people need an NHS that will be able to cope with increasing demand. Almost every political leader in West London has called for the Health Secretary to halt these closures. After the CQC report, Northwick Park cannot be subjected to the extra work load. It is simply not safe.
A Mayor who has shown acquiescence towards health inequalities, a cost driven reorganisation of the NHS, and a funding cut dressed as a funding freeze. We should be stopping these knee jerk and flawed A&E closures and planning strategically in London. A crisis in the NHS isn't looming, it's here right now.
Dr Onkar Sahota is a Member of the Greater London Assembly for Ealing and Hillingdon, as well as a practicing GP in West London. He is Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.