By Mark Smulian | 1 August 2013
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt exceeded his powers when he ordered a hospital to cut or close departments, the High Court has ruled.
The case arose over proposed reductions in accident and emergency, maternity and other services at Lewisham Hospital as a consequence of problems at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust.
Hunt appointed trust special administrator Matthew Kershaw to South London under the ‘unsustainable provider regime’ after the trust hit financial problems.
But his recommendations for reconfiguring services included closures and reductions at Lewisham, which is part of a separate trust.
Mr Justice Silber ruled that Hunt had broken the National Health Service Act 2006, since the special administrator had been appointed to oversee only South London, not Lewisham.
He said Kershaw ‘did not have [the power] to make his recommendations relating to Lewisham Hospital. The secretary of state did not have [powers] to make his decision relating to Lewisham Hospital.’ He therefore quashed Hunt’s orders.
The London Borough of Lewisham started the legal action to try to overturn Hunt’s decision after an outcry from local pressure groups.
Elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock said: ‘Lewisham Hospital is well-managed, highly-respected and financially solvent. The special administrator should never have been allowed to make recommendations outside his remit, the secretary of state should never have adopted his recommendations and this case should never have had to come to the High Court.’
Lawyer Rosa Curling from Leigh Day, the law firm which represented the Save Lewisham Hospital Group in the case, said: ‘The court has today agreed that the special administrator and the secretary of state has no legal power [over Lewisham] and has emphatically made clear that this decision should be quashed.’
The ruling leaves the Department of Health to look for other ways to deal with the fallout from South London’s problems, where it said losses ran at £1m per week.
A DoH spokesperson said: ‘This judgment applies to one aspect of a package of changes which we believe are in the best long-term interests of patients and the public across south east London.
‘As it stands, the South London Healthcare NHS Trust has been running at a loss of about £1m a week – money that has to be diverted from frontline patient care.’
Hunt plans to appeal against the ruling and meanwhile to proceed with the planned dissolution of South London on October 1.