AS LEWISHAM health campaigners toasted a famous legal victory last week, Bexley residents were being blamed for 'bed blocking' at a struggling neighbouring hospital.

Plans by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to downgrade Lewisham Hospital's A&E and maternity services were quashed at the High Court on July 31 following a legal challenge by Lewisham Council and a grassroots campaign.

The proposal was part of a range of measures to cut health costs in south-east London following the financial collapse of South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) - which runs Queen Mary's in Sidcup, the Princess Royal (PRUH) in Farnborough and Woolwich's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

It was ruled that Mr Hunt had acted outside his powers by including Lewisham - run by a separate health trust - in the plans.
But health chiefs, who are weighing up an appeal, insist the decision will not derail other changes, including transferring Queen Mary's to Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust where it will be run as a "health campus".

In the meantime, the neighbouring PRUH and Queen Elizabeth - which, unlike Queen Mary's, still have an A&E - continue to struggle with high demand.

Back in May, trust special administrator Caroline Taylor admitted that patients were sometimes waiting too long for treatment and estimed Queen Elizabeth needed another 20 beds.

And at a Greenwich Council meeting last week, local authority leader Councillor Chris Roberts put part of the blame for capacity problems at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich  - which he said would be worsened by a Lewisham downgrade - on Bexley.

He claimed Bexley Council had failed to deliver on health policies, saying: "A huge amount of bed blocking comes from that area because the community facilities don't exist in Bexley."

A spokesman for Bexley Council said: "Chris Roberts is wrong to say that capacity issues in Queen Elizabeth Hospital reflect our failure to develop community health facilities. As he well knows, community health facilities are developed and commissioned by local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), not by the council.

"Our social care staff have been working very closely with Bexley CCG to invest in and develop ways of preventing hospital admissions and promoting discharge when people are ready to go home.

"We have brought together teams of social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses and their support staff, so that they can stop people going into hospital when they don't need to, and ensure they come home at the right time with any necessary support. This includes services to help people develop their independence skills following illness or disability.

"We are working very closely with our health colleagues to base these integrated teams at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, so that they support Bexley patients and free up acute beds for those that need them."