Jeremy Hunt to force through hospital closures

Dozens of financially sound hospitals could be closed or downgraded after the health secretary forces through controversial changes to the care bill today.

Jeremy Hunt's "hospital closure clause" will attempt to hand local trust administrators the power to close hospital services in neighbouring trusts, even when they are in no financial difficulty.

Hunt's decision to force through the clause comes after his attempts to close Lewisham Hospital accident and emergency and maternity wards were twice ruled illegal by the courts.

The health secretary's plans to downgrade the South East London hospital in order to secure the future of a failing neighbouring trust have been met with fierce local opposition and large street protests.

His determination to appeal the rulings against him have made him a well known figure locally.

In a sign of the fury caused by the move, one local newspaper featured a mocked-up picture of the health secretary urinating on protesters with the headline: "What a Hunt".

Hunt insists the changes are essential to secure the long-term future of the NHS.

Up to 20 coalition MPs are today expected to oppose Hunt’s amendment to the care bill.

Former Liberal Democrat health minister Paul Burstow will lead attempts to amend the clause.

"Support for my amendment has been growing," he told the Guardian.

"It feels to me that there's a growing disquiet on the Conservative side of the coalition about these plans, plus there are Liberal Democrat MPs who share the concern."

Labour today published a list of 32 hospital trusts they say will come under threat if the clause is passed.

They will today propose two amendments to the clause.

One amendment will propose deleting it altogether and the other will ensure greater consultation before any closures can take place.