HEALTH secretary Andy Burnham has vowed to put an end to a controversial review into whether The Whittington Hospital's A&E department should be closed.

The unexpected u-turn, announced a week before the General Elecion, will be welcomed by patients who have led a fierce campaign against the proposals put forward by the north central region of NHS London which also placed marternity ward and intensive car units at risk.

Mr Burnham said he had not seen enough evidence to warrant the closure, and that he planned to ask the North Central London Sector Review panel "to go back to the drawing board".

The Labour minister said: "As a government we only support changes in the NHS when the local clinicians propose them and when there is evidence that they will improve quality and save lives.

"As far as I've seen there is no clinical evidence or clinical support for any kind of downgrading or closure.

"On that basis it's simply inconceivable that Labour would support the closing or downgrading of the Whittington A&E or its maternity service."

Under the plans, hospitals in Haringey, Enfield, Barnet, Islington and Camden were expected to be dramatically reconfigured to make either specialist centres, centres of excellence and 24-hour urgent care centres, in line with Lord Darzi's Future of Healthcare vision.

NHS bosses claimed the overhaul was the best choice for patients while facing a budget deficit of between £640 and £860 million by 2015.

Of the seven scenarios proposed, four of them involved reducing the opening hours of The Whittington's A&E department — or closing it down completely.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had already pledged to halt the review should they be returned to power on May 6.

Campaigners had spent the day at the hospital, in Magdala Avenue, as part of a Day of Action.

Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green said: "This is fantastic news, and a brilliant testament to the fact that the power of local people and our campaign has worked.

"This is the right decision for local residents. I have been fighting tooth and nail together with my Liberal Democrat colleagues and local residents to keep our vital health services open since the disastrous plans were leaked to me last October."