The health secretary ‘outrageously changed the law’ to downgrade hospitals next to cash-strapped trusts – following a landmark legal loss over Lewisham Hospital.

MPs voted through the controversial Clause 119 in the Care Bill which allows a hospital to be shut or services reduced, even if they are performing well.

It comes after the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did not have the power to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital.

A massive campaign was launched by Save Lewisham Hospital and Lewisham Council which successfully argued Mr Hunt’s remit over debt-ridden South London Healthcare Trust did not extend to Lewisham.

Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge Jim Dowd accused the government of "bullying" tactics in Lewisham, during the House of Commons debate yesterday (March 11).

A total of 297 MPs voted in favour of Clause 119, while 239 voted against it, including Labour MP for Lewisham East Heidi Alexander and Tory MP for Beckenham Bob Stewart.

Speaking in the Commons, MP Jim Dowd said: "The government knew from the outset that they had no legal power to do it and were just, in the way of all bullies, trying it on until somebody stopped them."

He added: "Lewisham was stitched up from day one."

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign chair, who is also a Euro candidate for London for the National Health Action Party, said: "Yesterday's vote in parliament which passed the controversial clause 119 of the Care Bill should cause grave concern in all those who care about the NHS and our hospital services.

"Here in Lewisham we experienced first hand Jeremy Hunt's attempt to close Lewisham hospital because of the PFI debts of a neighbouring trust. We challenged him in court and we won!

"Now Jeremy Hunt has outrageously changed the law to make sure that never again will a thriving solvent hospital be able to use that defence against the decisions of a government appointed special administrator, regardless of the views of local people or clinicians."

She added: "Jeremy Hunt may think this is a way to fast track hospital closures, but it won't stop people fighting to defend their local NHS services."