By Fiona Twycross AM (Labour), writing in a personal capacity
You would be hard pressed to find a politician from any party prepared to openly support A&E closures.
If you believed what you read in local papers, the closures are apparently universally opposed by public and politicians alike. Despite this, and despite strong opposition on the ground, Andrew Lansley is still signing off A&E closures.
The simple (obvious) answer is because the Tories and Lib Dems are allowing him to buy their support in parliament for the changes to the health service and NHS cuts.
In return Tory and Lib Dem politicians appear to be being given free rein to be oppositional at a local level.
Opposition to local cuts is sanctioned, even to the extent that it is not a resigning matter for Paul Burstow to be opposing the closure of the A&E at his local St Helier hospital even though he is minister. There’ll some of you out there itching to point out that Hazel Blears was allowed to do the same but at least she wasn’t a health minister like Burstow who is opposing cuts to services at his local St Helier hospital.
At the 11 July plenary session of the London Assembly, members – including the Conservatives and Lib Dems – unanimously spoke against A&E closures to the extent it sounded almost churlish to criticise the coalition on health (although I did).
All Assembly members present voted in support of a Labour motion on the issue. You would think you were in a parallel universe where there was universal agreement that the cuts weren’t being allowed to go ahead.
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In permitting localised opposition, the government is recognising the danger of electoral defeat on the back of saving local hospitals like that suffered by Tory Richard Barnes at the hands of GP Dr Onkar Sahota, now Labour Assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon. Permission (explicit or implicit) to oppose is, however, a dangerous path for a government and a sign of how wobbly (technical term) the coalition’s position is.
Yet, if it is genuinely the case that all politicians, including Lib Dem and Tory politicians who voted for the changes to the NHS, agree with the prevailing view of the public that the current round of proposed A&E closures are bad when it comes to their local hospital, can’t agreement be reached that the moratorium on A&E closures proposed by Cameron before the last general election should be honoured?
The only other conclusion to reach is that there is some serious opportunistic posturing going on.