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Hospital cuts appeal cost £92,000

The Health Secretary's claim that he was within the law over a decision to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital. Photo: Reuters

Taxpayers face a near £100,000 bill for Jeremy Hunt's appeal against a court ruling that he acted unlawfully in ordering hospital service cuts, parliamentary records show.

The Health Secretary's claim that he was within the law over a decision to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital, in south-east London, was dismissed in the Court of Appeal this week.

The Government had challenged a High Court judge's finding in July that Mr Hunt had breached provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006 and did not have the power to implement the cuts.

Health Minister Daniel Poulter today said the cost of bringing the appeal was approximately £92,000, although the Department of Health is awaiting further details from the Court of Appeal.

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed, who helped unearth the figures, said: "Instead of graciously accepting the first court ruling, ministers squandered the salary of three nurses trying to defend the indefensible.

"This is all the more galling when thousands of nursing jobs are being axed.

"Days later, ministers still haven't apologised to the people of Lewisham nor committed to keeping their full A&E open. They should do this without delay.

"Trying to close A&Es in the middle of an A&E crisis is yet more proof you can't trust the Tories with the NHS."

In response to two written parliamentary questions, one of which was from Mr Reed, minister Mr Poulter said: "The estimated cost to the department of bringing the appeal against the High Court judgment of July 31, 2013, is approximately £92,000.

"Once the Court of Appeal judgment has been handed down, the court will be required to deal with consequential matters including both respondents' costs of the appeal, the level of which are not known at this time."

Mr Hunt had appointed a special trust administrator to the "very badly performing" South London Healthcare Trust, which went into administration after it started losing more than #1 million a week.

To help deal with the problem, the special administrator recommended measures including cuts at Lewisham Hospital.

The Health Secretary had assured MPs that the changes would improve patient care in south London, saving up to 100 lives a year.

But a successful legal challenge followed from Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign in which Mr Justice Silber declared that Mr Hunt had breached provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006.

After the Government's Court of Appeal defeat, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Hunt's "humiliation" raised questions about his judgment and ability to manage important decisions.

The Health Secretary insisted he would rather lose a battle in the courts trying to do the right thing for patients than not try at all.

Labour's Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) also submitted a question to Mr Hunt asking the cost of the appeal against the High Court ruling in July, along with Mr Reed.