The announcement that plans to close Ealing and Charing Cross A&Es will no longer go ahead was not a surprise to those of us who work closely with the North West London NHS. In recent meetings in public, they have been very open about the fact that they were reconsidering their plans given the lack of available capital and the context of the new NHS Long Term Plan.
What was a little surprising was the way in which the news was broken. It seemed odd for the Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, to make the announcement on the 26th March 2019 in response to a parliamentary question from an MP. It was clear on the day that many in the NHS had not been made aware of what Mr Hancock was planning to say. We hear much from the government about the importance of the NHS and local councils like mine working together in partnership to develop plans for services in their area. Most of us are doing what we can to support this. Making an announcement like that over all our heads was not a very good example of such partnership working.
Nonetheless, the NHS decision to shelve those parts of the Shaping a Healthier Future programme that had caused most public controversy does give us a real opportunity to move forward together in North West London. There are major challenges facing health and social care across our eight boroughs and neither the NHS nor local authorities can resolve these alone.
Making sure all of us get the care we need and that that the right staff are there to deliver it are matters that should concern us all. If you add in the problems of crumbling buildings and lack of money - the North West London NHS has a massive problem with its estate, with some of our hospitals close to falling down - then you can see there is an agenda where local authorities and NHS leaders should be working together. And government support will be needed too.
It is not all doom and gloom. Despite the lack of money, there are real opportunities to work with local people to improve their health. We should be working together to keep people well, to make sure they don't keep having to provide the same information to numerous doctors and nurses and to help them navigate a health and care system that can seem very complex. Better support for our children and young people, the frail elderly and people with mental health issues or long term medical conditions are areas where the NHS and local boroughs need to cooperate closely to have any chance of success.
And if we can make our local residents active citizens - both physically and in terms of helping to shape and improve their local services - then we have the potential to deliver real and lasting change for our residents.
The proposed A&E closures were always a divisive and difficult topic. The local NHS is clear that the decision not to go ahead with them does not mean that nothing will change. The scale of the challenges we face is too great to say that. But while some difficult decisions will still have to be made, we should now see a real opportunity to work together to make our local services the best they can be - and actually shape a healthier future for local people.