CALLS for evidence that closing the Whittington Hospital's emergency department was in the best interest of patients were angrily rejected as political game playing by the Labour health minister.

Under pressure from Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone, health minister Mike O'Brien began reeling off a list of "eminent clinicians" who supported proposals to radically overhaul hospitals in Haringey, Enfield, Barnet, Camden and Islington.

Mr O'Brien added clinicians had to have the space to debate and discuss options before presenting options to the public.

He added that attacks from Liberal Democrat politicans citing "lack of evidence" were being done for political gain. The five boroughs, which make up the North Central London sector of the NHS, will be reconfigured to make specialist centres, centres of excellence and 24-hour urgent care centres, according to Lord Darzi's vision for the future of healthcare.

But it also means the Whittington Hospital's A&E department, its maternity and paediatric services could be downgraded, and the 83,000 patients who attend the emergency services annually forced to go elsewhere.

Since the proposals were leaked last year, NHS bosses have maintained that the project was clinician-led with patient care at the forefront.

Ms Featherstone, who secured the Westminster debate, said she had seen no evidence to support the argument and pressed the Labour minister to provide some.

Mr O'Brien said: "We have tried to give clinicians a space where they can debate some of these issues and discuss what is best for London. They do not want to engage in public controversy.

"We need to give them the ability to discuss what is best for London, and how best to deliver health care. If every time they have a discussion and put something on paper, or there is a minute of a meeting or a report, it has to be put out in the public arena, so that Liberal Democrat MPs can attack them over their lack of evidence and so on, they will withdraw from engaging in the discussion of health care for London.

"The result will be that patients in London-patients whom the hon. Lady and her colleagues represent-will suffer because they will not have input from those clinicians."

He added that the Government had invested more than £30 million in the Whittington Hospital and reiterated the points made at an earlier debate that unless there was a "strong case" for closing its A&E department, he would find any suggestion to do so "difficult to appreciate".

But closer to home, Ms Featherstone, supported by Labour Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn, said that a number of doctors and consultants who work at the hospital, in Magdala Avenue, Archway, were opposed to the proposals.

Speaking after the debate, Ms Featherstone said: "It was a rubbish response. To wave a piece of paper with the names of clinicians who support the proposals at the end of an argument that was well-reasoned and knocked down every plank, was not enough.

"He may very soon be presented with another long list of clinicians who oppose it."

She added: "We are not Luddites and will embrace change, but there is still no evidence to support the idea that closing the Whittington's A&E is in the best interests of patients."

Ms Featherstone also said she was "nervous" about Mr O'Brien's pledge that a strong case would have to be made to close the Whittington.

She said: "In his wind-down, the minister did say some promising things, but we are in the run up to an election and so we must continue to fight for to keep the Whittington open."

A study conducted by the Highgate Society found that closing the Whittington's emergency department, would add up to 40 minutes to journey times.

A 24-hour Urgent Care Centre, which could replace the A&E, would be staffed by GPs and nurses.