The winter A&E crisis is fast becoming an annual event in the capital as the strains of a booming population meet cutbacks and closures in the NHS.
Nowhere is this challenge starker than in North West London where the Government has embarked on a unique ‘experiment’ to see what the impact of closing two nearby A&Es and a number of other vital services would be.
Tragically the results were all too predictable with all the nearby hospital A&E departments in four neighbouring Hospital Trusts not once seeing 95% of their emergency patients within 4 hours since the closure of Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A&Es in September 2014.
The troubling figures could easily indicate another Christmas of crisis in the London NHS particularly given that last December saw the percentage of A&E patients treated within 4 hours at Northwick Park and Ealing A&Es in West London fall to just 54% in the week over Christmas.
It’s not just me who thinks the experiment has failed.
Last week an Independent Healthcare Commission report, chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, demanded a stop on any further A&E closures in North West London after analysing the impact of the first round of ‘reconfigurations.’
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that shutting down A&E services will have a huge knock on effect for nearby hospitals.
Last year we saw A&Es in North West London desperately struggling to cope under the pressure of increased demand. Unless the Government recognise this challenge early and take action to relieve the pressure on West London A&Es the consequences could be devastating.
For now this is a problem concentrated in West London, partly thanks to the success of campaigns to fight the closure of other London hospitals such as in Lewisham.
At the same time, however, the London Ambulance Service (LAS) has been crippled by a similar collision of cuts, increased demand and lack of trained paramedics, all of which culminated last month in the CQC’s decision to put the LAS into special measures.
The decision came as a result of years of underfunding and, crucially, understaffing in the London Ambulance Service, much of which is down to the shear unaffordability of London for people on a paramedic’s salary.
Instead, with the cost of living and in particular housing rocketing, many of our paramedics have understandably left the capital to live in other areas where their salary will stretch much further.
You’d think this would be a serious concern for the Mayor, but it seems not.
Despite having presided over the LAS’ decline as Mayor taking little action to stem the problems, when I asked Boris Johnson if he’d be lobbying the Government for additional funding to support the LAS after the special measures announcement, he told me he was “not currently minded to seek additional resources for the Service at present.”
A total abdication of his responsibilities to Londoners and a clear sign he isn’t willing to rock the Government’s boat.
Admittedly the Mayor doesn’t yet have a statutory responsibility for London’s Health Service, though that shouldn’t stop him speaking out for London when things are going wrong. As ever though Boris’ appetite for grand statements trumps his commitment to action.
To much pomp and ceremony the Mayor’s Health Commission chaired by Lord Darzi was launched and reported but over a year later very few of its headline recommendations have been enacted by the Mayor.
Years of underfunding are starting to come to a head as health services once again look like ready to buckle under the strain of increased demand. It’s time the Government and Mayor realised that warm words alone don’t protect Londoners’ health when the cold weather sets in.
Dr Onkar Sahota is Labour’s London Assembly Health Spokesperson and a practicing GP in West London