Save the NHS: Act Now to Stop the Hatchet Falling on South London Accident and Emergency Services

29.10.12

Please sign the petition initiated by Heidi Alexander MP, and the e-petition to the government. And also please visit the Save Lewisham A&E website for further information.

It’s far too easy, nowadays, for people to sit back and let sweeping and deadly political changes take place because they believe that resistance is futile, but if you live in south east London — and specifically in the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — that really shouldn’t be an excuse any more.

Under plans to be announced today, the solution to the chronic financial difficulties being experienced by the South London Healthcare Trust, based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, is for Lewisham, which has no connection to the trust, to have its A&E (Accident and Emergency) department closed, and for just one hospital — Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich — to run A&E services for the whole of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley (where the A&E department at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup closed two years ago); in other words, instead of three hospitals, each providing A&E care for around 250,000 people, one hospital will now have to cater for 750,000 people in total.

With residents of Brockley, where I live, located four or five miles from the A&E department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, it is certain that, if the plans go ahead, then, at rush hour, severely ill people will die before they can get from Brockley to Woolwich.

This is the most alarming aspect of the plans announced by special administrator Matthew Kershaw, who was appointed by the former butcher of the NHS Andrew Lansley, because, of course, A&E is at the very heart of the NHS, and any attempt to undermine it ought to be an unacceptable notion under any circumstances. For London’s 32 boroughs, the battle lines ought to be clear. Each borough needs to have its own A&E, serving the 200,000 to 250,000 people who live, on average, in each borough.

Also alarming, of course, is the administrator’s decision to make Lewisham pay for problems that are not of its own making, and the fact that its A&E has recently been refurbished as part of improvements costing £12 million, although it is no less alarming that the South London Healthcare Trust, which has a good clinical record, is being punished not for its own failures, but because it is tied into unaffordable PFI contracts.

According to the BBC, Matthew Kershaw, the special administrator for the NHS, will recommend that, as well as axing Lewisham’s A&E department, the three hospitals that make up the South London Healthcare Trust — Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, The Princess Royal in Orpington and Queen Mary’s in Sidcup — should be “hived off to nearby trusts,” although he apparently recognises the PFI burden, as it was also stated that he believes the government “should pay up to £20m a year to cover the PFI bill currently being paid by South London Healthcare Trust for its hospital buildings.”

As political correspondent Karl Mercer also noted, south London is not alone in struggling against swingeing and alarming cuts to NHS services proposed by the Tory-led government, who cannot be trusted to care for a universal service that, for the most part, they themselves don’t use.

As Mercer noted, “In north-west London a four-month consultation on closing four of the nine A&E departments in the area has just ended. The plans led to a series of demonstrations and a 60,000 signature petition against the changes.” See the “Save Our Hospitals” and “Save Hammersmith & Fulham Hospitals” websites for more information.

In south east London, meanwhile, campaigners against the proposed plans for Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, involving the closure of Lewisham’s A&E department have set up a website, Save Lewisham A&E, which provides detailed background information, and are urging people to contact their local MPs, and to email Matthew Kershaw, “who has never cared for a patient,” to tell him “what you think of his suggestion to close Lewisham’s A&E to make QEH more attractive to private business.”

There is also a public meeting on Thursday November 8, from 6-8pm, in the Lessoff Auditorium at Lewisham Hospital, with Jim Dowd MP, Heidi Alexander MP, Lewisham’s Mayor Steve Bullock, Dr. Louise Irvine, local GP and BMA council member, and other speakers to be announced, and on Saturday November 24, another event, “Hands Around Our Hospital,” will be taking place, involving a march from Loampit Vale roundabout to Lewisham Hospital at 2 pm, followed by campaigners linking hands around Lewisham Hospital at 3 pm.

Please do come along to these events if you’re affected, or if you care about the future of the NHS and can make it to Lewisham. Below, to conclude (for now), I’m cross-posting the page from the Save Lewisham A&E website entitled, “Why do they want to close Lewisham A&E?” which provides a good explanation of what is happening and why.

Why do they want to close Lewisham A&E?
By Save Lewisham A&E

In July, Tory Health Minister Andrew Lansley MP hand-picked a ‘special administrator’ to take over South London Healthcare Trust. The administrator, Matthew Kershaw, has completed a draft report that recommends Lewisham Hospital close their A&E, as reported on BBC London today. Lewisham Hospital is not part of South London Healthcare, where the administrator was appointed. The report will be formally published this Monday.

The administrator believes closing Lewisham A&E will force patients through the doors of the heavily indebted Queen Elizabeth Hospital, thus increasing its income. However, this trick has already been performed once, when Queen Mary’s Sidcup A&E was closed 2 years ago, and currently up to 1 in 5 patients wait over 4 hours for treatment in Queen Elizabeth A&E (see here). It will overwhelm the indebted Queen Elizabeth Hospital, at a time when the administrator also recommends it makes £100 million of further cuts.

Lewisham residents, MPs, the mayor and hospital workers across both trusts have come together to support a campaign group to oppose the recommendations, ‘Save Lewisham A&E’. Lewisham residents don’t want to be punished for the political failures of recent years and they feel the administrator process has been abused to attack the NHS — which is why the administrator exceeded his jurisdiction at South London Healthcare and swung the axe at nearby Lewisham.

If the newly-refurbished Lewisham A&E closes, the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley (population 750,000) will have 1 accident and emergency to share. Lewisham has the lowest male life expectancy in London. This is not a ‘difficult decision’ that the government is making, it is a ‘deadly decision’.

South London Healthcare has inherited immense debts caused by political mismanagement — unaffordable bank loans were taken out at the same time rules were introduced to ban the NHS distributing money from profitable areas to those that were in need. So, despite excellent [i.e. low] rates of infection and low mortality, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Mary’s, Sidcup, Princess Royal, Farnborough and Orpington Hospital were deemed failures.

The NHS is now structured so that individual trusts cannot receive surplus money from other areas, but when it comes to savage cuts, the opposite applies. The government is using semantic arguments about why £4 billion pounds of NHS cash reserves can’t be used and why Lewisham A&E should close. The fact is, if you have a road accident on the South Circular, Jeremy Hunt is happy to risk that you could die on your way to hospital so that he can repay the banks without using NHS reserves.

The recommendation to close Lewisham A&E is part of an ideological assault on the NHS. The administrator’s plans to make cuts and close local competitors is designed to make South London’s services more attractive to private healthcare. Although some NHS Trusts have expressed an interest in running South London’s services, so have many private companies. The tendering process will be overseen by Jeremy Hunt, not the administrator. It is likely to be focused on cost and servicing the debt, rather than quality. So although headlines are focused on local trusts, private health companies are at an advantage when they compete on cost, because they don’t bear the costs of A&E’s, intensive care, or training medical professionals.

Do not be fooled into thinking any of our A&Es have to close for the sake of patients, it is being done to attack our NHS.  Lewisham Healthcare runs a successful hospital, which could die a slow death if the administrator’s plans are taken up.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Write to the special administrator, Matthew Kershaw (appointed by NHS butcher Andrew Lansley), to tell him what you think of his plans: slh.matthewkershaw@nhs.net

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Off up north for 36 hours, visiting grandparents with my son (it’s half-term). Please spread this information far and wide if it is of concern to you. Anyone in south London, PLEASE get involved. We can still save the NHS but only if we fight for it!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I just shared this, with a bit of commentary. Enjoy the trip.

  4. Thomas says...

    A useful law would be…all Royals, Lords/Ladies and MPs who are ill or injured in the UK have to use the NHS without top ups or private care. Then the NHS would allways be kept at top standard, as if it messes up, they die or get seriously ill.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, agreed, Thomas. But it is, sadly, one rule for them and another for us, as it is with education. It’s disgusting that ministers who went to private schools and who send their children to private schools believe that they have any right to decide how state schools ought to operate.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Very glad that you shared it.

  7. Naomi Huxham says...

    Thank you so much for supporting Lewisham. Fingers crossed Kershaw will actually listen.

    Please spread the word of the petitions going around

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41027

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Naomi. I hadn’t seen those. I’ve just signed them, and will start promoting them now.

  9. Jean Mullen says...

    I am thinking that this is an ongoing Tory governments strategy to privitiise and destroy the NHS. During the the Thatcher goverment many hospital were closed being deemed as unprofitable and in debt. We now have fewer hospitals but still the outcry is the same. Billions of pounds are being spent on foolish ideologies such as the European Union and yet our hospitals are constantly in debt. There are enough taxes being collected to make the NHS a viable concern but the money is constantly being wasted in employing various high profile individuals to come up with preposterous ideas. Why would any right thinking person spend such a large sum of money on refurbishment and then close. Why close Lewisham Hospital Accident and Emergency Department because another establishment is ailing? I am quite sure that will only make bad matters worse. It will put pressure on the other surrounding hospitals and endanger lives. Please stop this carnage and LEAVE OUR LEWISHAM HOSPITAL ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT ALONE.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jean. I hear you loud and clear!

  11. Save Lewisham A&E protest 24 November 2012 | Kate Belgrave says...

    [...] be replaced with an urgent care centre. Maternity services could be lost too.” There’s an excellent report on Andy Worthington’s blog which backgrounds the proposals and response in [...]

  12. Save Lewisham Hospital A&E: Photos of the Massive Protest on November 24, 2012 | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation says...

    [...] –  from marching in numbers not seen in living memory to protest about the disgraceful plans, announced less than a month ago, to close Lewisham’s A&E Department, to downgrade maternity services, and to cut other acute [...]

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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