Several times in the last three weeks I have been asked to sign a local petition to stop the closure of the Accident and Emergency unit at my nearest hospital - The Charing Cross on Fulham Palace Road. This is a major teaching hospital - part of Imperial Health Trust where Imperial College medical students are trained. I have had two minor surgical procedures carried out successfully at the hospital over the years and have visited friends there, when being cared for. This is my local hospital. It is central to the delivery of serious health care in my community. And yet I cannot sign that petition.
You see, I am not a health economist, a clinician or an expert in the optimum distribution of A & E departments across West London. I simply do not have the expertise to be able to judge which A & E - or any other departments - are required for the population distribution.
But I do know that within five miles of where I live, I have A & E departments at the Charing Cross hospital, the Hammersmith, the Chelsea & Westminster, the Ealing, St. Mary's, St. Thomas's, University College, the Whittington, and the Royal Free. All of them major teaching hospitals. All of them with state of the art, multi-bleeping, scrubs-wearing young doctors able to save all our lives at the touch of a million watts of defibrillation..
Now you see my problem. The vicinity of three major medical colleges has resulted in a significant number of teaching hospitals in West London. No doubt all of them will have clinical contracts with health authorities across the UK for elective surgery and other medical procedures. All of which I have no problems with. But Accident and Emergency? The clue of course, is in the name. A & E is designed purely for the local population. With the best will in the world - and the fastest ambulances - you cannot deliver emergency medical services in West London for the residents of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Surrey.
I understand that local people worry about the closure of A & E services at their nearest hospital. Naturally these need to be fully explained along with what objectives are being achieved and what outcomes provided. But when so much over-capacity ensures an obvious local alternative, objections verge on the hysterical.