An investigation has discovered that NHS bosses have gone to lengths in order to keep proposed cuts secret.
The NHS hierarchy has recently been conducting a review of services throughout the healthcare system.
This process may ultimately involve some A&E departments being closed, with the future of some hospitals also reportedly under threat.
But the full details of this review process are yet to emerge, with NHS England apparently having requested managers to ensure that the plans are kept “out of the public domain”.
This shocking assertion has been made by the authoritative King’s Fund, with managers even provided information on how to reject freedom of information requests, according to reports.
Leaks and plans published include a proposal for south west London to close one of five hospitals, either St George’s, Kingston, Croydon, St Helier or Epsom.
Meanwhile, there is a proposal to centralise specialist services on two sites in North Tees.
Services would be downgraded as a result of this decision, according to the King’s Fund.
A spokesman for NHS England said that by the end of this week, plans for at least half of the reviews would be published – and the intention had always been to consult on the final plans if major changes were going to be made.
“I am sure there are things that could be learnt about the process. But when you are trying to improve care across a whole system, things are never going to be straightforward,” added Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director.
But there will be great concern about the covert nature of the plans, and the potential impact on NHS services.
For example, healthcare bosses in Devon are assessing the closure of A&E, maternity and stroke services.
Merseyside, Central London, and Birmingham and Solihull may also be impacted by the mooted cuts.
However, there has been strong condemnation of the attitude of the NHS hierarchy and the decisions that are apparently looming.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, suggested the stance was a sham – as the public would in effect be consulted on “pre-determined solutions”.
And Jeremy Taylor, of National Voices, which represents patients, said: “Developing plans behind closed doors, and presenting near-final proposals, does not count as meaningful involvement.”
But the King’s Fund did suggest that centralisation plans had the potential to improve patient care, if implemented thoughtfully.
And it it almost inevitable that such decisions will be made, with the government pushing for over £20 billion of efficiency savings in the coming years.