Lib Dem MPs accused of scare tactics over hospital cuts campaign

Lib Dem MPs in South London have been accused of whipping up a scare story of cuts at their local hospital in order to further their chances of re-election.

The emotively-titled "Save Kingston Hospital" campaign, launched by Lib Dem MPs Susan Kramer (Richmond upon Thames) and Ed Davey (Kingston & Surbiton), has been provoked by a review of local NHS services.

The strategic plan, being drawn up South West London NHS, floats a wide range of options for services at hospitals across a broad region of South London from Twickenham to Croydon, discussion of which is set to continue for most of 2010.

Crucially, while the review discusses changes to the provision of health services across the district, there is no suggestion that Kingston hospital faces closure, nor any confirmed plan to reduce services at Kingston hospital specifically.

Having received several briefings from local NHS chiefs about the review, it was only after being told that discussion of the plan would continue until well past a likely May general election that the Lib Dem MPs launched their campaign to 'save' Kingston hospital and published parts of the confidential NHS document.

In order to calm local fears being whipped up by the Lib Dems, the chief executive of Kingston hospital was forced to issue a statement denying closure plans.

In an open letter, Kate Grimes said: "There are no specific plans for change at Kingston Hospital and if any proposals for change to hospitals across South West London are made, I think we at Kingston are in a strong position."

In a debate in Parliament on the subject yesterday, the Lib Dem MPs involved - Susan Kramer and Ed Davey - were accused by both Conservative MPs and a Labour minister of "scaremongering" and "playing politics" with the NHS.

Responding to the Lib Dem claims, health minister Mike O'Brien said "here we have the cynical winding up of the electorate" and added
"the Liberal Democrats have a record of running scare stories and asking people to join the campaign by sending in their addresses, petitions and email addresses. They can then canvas those people - it is all about elections."

Conservative MP Mike Penning joined the criticism, asking Mr O'Brien, "Does the Minister agree that it would have been very easy for other political parties, not least my own, to jump on the Liberal Democrats' bandwagon of scaremongering? As he knows, I have campaigned against Labour cuts on many occasions, but when there has been proper information and documentation."

In a further blow to the credibility of the Lib Dem campaign, Mr O'Brien read out a series of Twitter postings by Daily Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire, in which Maguire relates overhearing on a train a man boasting that he had "got Evening Standard to claim Lab has secret plans to shut Kingston Hospital."

A second Twitter update from Maguire says "Train bloke now boasting the hospital scare story cooked up at his kitchen table. Very proud of Facebook following".

Having posted his photograph, the man who was apparently so proud of having 'cooked up' a regional NHS review into 'secret Labour plans' to shut a hospital was later identified by Maguire as Lib Dem activist Dan Falchikov.

Aptly summarising the situation, health minister Mike O'Brien concluded the debate in Parliament by saying: "What they are doing, however, is trying to frighten people into believing that services are definitely closing, when all that is going on is some discussions between clinicians. What the eventual proposals will be I do not know, and nor does he [Ed Davey]. We should not at this stage use scare stories like this for election purposes, in a cynical way."


  1. Lib Dems are a dreadful party - they still have not paid back the £2.4 Million Michael Brown Donation. They the say they are hollier than thou.......