Save Lewisham A&E: As Petition Nears 5,000 Signatures, I Tell South London Press, “People Will Die”

3.11.12

As the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department intensifies, with a petition launched by Heidi Alexander MP close to reaching 5,000 signatures in just four days, the South London Press, the bi-weekly regional newspaper based in Streatham, has added its support, with a front-page story in Friday’s edition, entitled, “Join the fight: Save our A&E.”

This is the kind of campaigning spirit that is sadly lacking in the mainstream media, and it is to be hoped that the SLP‘s assistance will help to persuade more people to become involved in the campaign to save Lewisham’s A&E Department, and also to prevent plans for maternity services to be severely downgraded, and for half the hospital to be sold off.

As I reported on Monday, the plans for Lewisham were included in a draft report put together by Matthew Kershaw, a special administrator appointed by Andrew Lansley to find solutions to the financial woes of the South London Hospital Trust, a “super-trust” serving Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which was suspended in July. The trust’s deficit is expected to reach £207 million by next year, although a third of this is because of rip-off PFI deals for rebuilding two of the three trust’s three hospitals under the last government — Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich and the Princess Royal in Orpington (the trust’s third hospital is St. Mary’s in Sidcup). As the Daily Telegraph explained, “The PFIs deals are costing the trust £69 million a year … Some £61 million of that is thought to be interest alone.”

To address the trust’s problems, Matthew Kershaw has proposed that Its “historic debts” should be absorbed by the Department of Health, so that its new owners are not “saddled with the issues of the past”, and has also proposed that the Department of Health should “pay £20 million to £25 million a year to cover the ‘excess costs’ of the PFIs for the two hospitals until the relevant contracts end.” The report also recommends that the trust should be split up, with King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust recommended to run the Princess Royal, and a merger involving Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth.

It is on this latter point that campaigners in Lewisham — myself included — are up in arms, as the draft report recommends that the A&E Department at Lewisham Hospital should close, to be taken over by Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which already deals with A&E cases from Sidcup as well. If the plans go ahead, there will be just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, which will be a disaster.

As I explained to the South London Press, in the Friday article that is not yet available online, “A&E is the front line of hospital services. It is extremely distressing to think that, if something terrible happens to someone in Brockley, they will have to be taken through all the traffic to Woolwich. I can see someone dying if this goes ahead.”

The bottom line, as I have been saying since the plans were first announced, is that each of the 32 boroughs in London — which typically have between 200,000 and 250,000 residents — should have their own A&E Departments, and this should be the priority when it comes to any considerations regarding the future of the NHS. If, instead, decisions are made on the basis of saving money, then we will end up with more situations like this, in which one region is made to pay for problems elsewhere.

As well as closing Lewisham’s A&E Department, Matthew Kershaw’s plans also mean that Lewisham “could lose its ‘consultant-led’ maternity services — handled by senior staff — so new mums experiencing problems giving birth would have to be ferried to other hospitals,” as the South London Press put it in an article on Tuesday. It was also suggested that the hospital “should become a major centre for planned surgery in worth east London, treating 44,000 patients a year from across south London, and, disturbingly, that half the hospital should be sold, for £17 million, which is just £5 million less than the £12 million that Lewisham spent on refurbishing parts of the hospital this year, including, ironically, the A&E Department.

Defending the proposals in the draft report. Matthew Kershaw said that NHS services across south east London were “not sustainable.” He stated, “We had to look at the whole south east London area and all of the seven hospitals. We cannot resolve this by looking at it [SLHT] on its own. It needs input from the others because all of the hospitals are part of a connected system. Other parts of the south east will face similar changes.”

Heidi Alexander, the MP for Lewisham East, who created the online petition to save Lewisham’s A&E Department, told the South London Press, “I don’t see why Lewisham should pay the price for financial failings elsewhere in the NHS. It is not at all clear to me how these proposals will result in better quality care or more lives saved. My fear is that they could mean the exact opposite.” On Wednesday, she also tackled David Cameron, at Prime Minister’s Questions, over his broken pledge, in 2007, to protect 29 top hospitals, including Lewisham, which he would be “prepared to get into a bare-knuckle fight over.”

Dr. Louise Irvine, from the Amersham Vale Practice at the Waldron Health Centre in Deptford, said, “Closing the A&E will be a total disaster and will lead to the downgrading of the hospital. Without the attached emergency surgical ward it will not be able to provide full maternity care. It will mean women with high risk pregnancies will have to travel further to get to an A&E which could put their lives at risk.” On Friday, she added, “Lewisham has a growing population — if the plans go ahead it will not have the full district hospital it needs. We are delighted the South London Press is backing the campaign.”

Jim Dowd, the MP for Lewisham West & Penge, said, “I cannot understand how damaging the services provided to people in one area can benefit residents in another. Robbing Peter to pay Paul never works and I hope that Lewisham residents will unite to show their determination to defend such an important service.”

In addition, Joan Ruddock, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, said, “Lewisham Hospital must not be made to pay for failures elsewhere and health provision for local residents must not be jeopardised. I will be joining with colleagues to get the best possible outcome for constituents.”

Take action now!

In conclusion, please sign the petition to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department, and please also let Matthew Kershaw know what you think — you have until December 13 to let him know what you think here, or you can email tsaconsultation@nhs.net or phone 0800 953 0110.

As Heidi Alexander explained on her website yesterday, “Join the thousands of people who have called on the Special Administrator to retain our vital services by signing the petition here. You can also print off a paper copy of the petition and collect signatures from friends, family, neighbours and colleagues here. All paper petitions should be returned to the Office of Heidi Alexander MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA no later than 6th December 2012.”

Also see the planned consolations in six south London boroughs, including Lewisham, here, and, if you can, please attend a public meeting with Heidi Alexander MP, Jim Dowd MP, Louise Irvine and Steve Bullock, Lewisham’s Mayor, on Thursday November 8 at 6 pm in the Lessoff Auditorium at Lewisham Hospital.

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.

47 Responses

  1. Ian S Small says...

    The A&E department at QE in Woolwich is stretched now especially since the closure of Queen Marys at Sidcup. The NHS should have learned from the day in July this year when the A&E in Woolwich closed due to alleged power failure and casualties had to go to Lewisham. It took the ambulance half an hour to get from Eltham to Lewisham on a thursday lunchtime. My 88 yo father had to wait 5 hours to see a doctor who then immediately sent him to resus with potential kidney failure. Reverse the scenario and peoples lives will be unnecessarily at risk if the closure goes ahead.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Ian. It is reports like yours that are crucial for helping people to understand what is at stake.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And just a reminder: here’s the petition, currently on 4,902 signatures: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Sharing Px

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I just shared this. Last night and this morning I stood by my principles and got some meds at one chemist that another chemist refused to give me at the proper price. The first did and told me that price should be no problem when health is involved. The Swedish state chemist system was privatised on 1 June 2010, split up into about 5 firms, and greed is now rampant. Here’s a good, passionate UK article on this: http://welfarenewsservice.co.uk/archives/778

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I saw your story about the medicine, George, and was just about to check out your link to that article about how perceptions of disability are fostered by government and the media, which I’ve now read. Very powerful.
    I also recently came up against an interesting pricing issue regarding medicines. My dose of blood thinners was changed from 6 mg (2 tablets a day) to 5.5 mg (4 tablets a day), and the newly employed saleswoman in the chemist asked the pharmacist whether I was supposed to pay for each packet of tablets. That would have made a big difference, as each item on a prescription costs £7.65, but the pharmacist pointed out to her that it costs £7.65, regardless of how many different packets there are. It did make me reflect, however, that it wouldn’t take much of a shift for every individual item to have to be paid for.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Good to hear that the pharmacist did that. I hope that price changes won’t be enforced. Not just for the financial gain involved, but for people who either need every quid they can save or for those who don’t know about the changes, have too little cash on hand, and cannot pay for enough to get them through, say, a weekend. A friend of a friend died because of a closely related issue. In my case it would not have mattered, but I try to stand by my principles. Actually though, in this case more was involved. Had I not acted I would have had to wait until Monday, at the bad chemist. Besides the uncertainty that would have caused, current Swedish rules (I don’t know if they are laws) require delivery within 24 hours. This limit is quite often not met, and there have been complaints about this. I mentioned that to the uncaring chemist, but she didn’t bat an eyelash. Andy, why the hell should anyone have to waste time, energy, and perhaps health on such problems? Perhaps one answer is in the article I linked to: lack of compassion is being raised from a personal disgrace to a public virtue. BAH!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Or it’s the transformation of everything to a market mentality, George. Here the £7.65 for prescriptions helps to cover those who have to have very expensive drugs – and, of course, children, the elderly, the unemployed don’t pay. I don’t know how this system works overall – in other words, whether it is subsidised overall, and by how much – but with the Tories’ obsession with turning everything into a private business, prescriptions will presumably be targeted at some point if these butchers aren’t removed from office.
    Interestingly, at the blood clinic, where those of us on blood thinners are regularly tested and our drug doses adjusted accordingly, the pharmacists generally have to hand out pills to those whose dose changes, because it takes several days for GPs to issue revised prescriptions, even though the changes have to be effected on the day of the tests.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I looked up the cost of prescriptions. In March 2011, at which point prescription charges had been dropped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said that say that the NHS “would be left with a shortfall of more than £450m per year if prescription charges were removed altogether in England,” so that’s how much they raise, evidently, although the spokesperson also stated, “The extensive exemption arrangements we have in place mean that in England, around 90% of prescription items are already dispensed free of charge.”
    I can see the exemptions coming under attack just a soon as some flint-hearted scumbag in government can work out how to package that and sell it to a public predisposed not to care about anyone but themselves …
    BBC article from March 2011 here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12646111

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Interesting. I don’t think that prescription costs cover anything here except the actual cost to the chemist plus profits and tax, since there’s no fixed prescription price here. Up to a certain total cost for me, all else is for a great part covered from a general fund. But the local government has raised that self-risk and introduced variable prescription costs as well. The latter are free-floating, within nationally set limits. As for the GPs having medicine to hand out, in my case they don’t. The stuff I was taking had to be shot in every 12 weeks, with a window of 4-6 days. Once the hospital chemist didn’t have it. The nurse told me to come back in several days. I refused by telling her about that window, got her to call around other Uppsala chemists, found that only one dose was available at one chemist. I told her to wait, took a cab, got the stuff, and returned to get the shot. It’s all unnecessary but is a result of local privatisation.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I guess they’ll say something like this: “If you take responsibility for your own health, then you won’t be inclined to visit the GP for a prescription so often. As a result you will actually spend less on prescriptions, even though there’s no exemption from the new prices.” A related measure is being discussed in Holland right now. Some sort of insurance refund if you don’t access the ‘care’ system for one year. Each discount holding for that year. SO, how many people will decide not to visit a Dutch GP, become more ill than necessary, all for the ‘benefit’ of saving several euros?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s grim, George. What we need is a movement that recognises that not everything can be commodified, and not everything can be sold for straightforward profit like branded items in a supermarket.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Keep signing and sharing the petition, my friends. It’s currently reached 5,062 signatures: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    We’ve now reached 5,223 signatures. Thanks to everyone who has signed, but we can do much, much better than this still!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I just stand up to them, to anybody who tries to fob me off, or who thinks of me as a quantity, such that so much of a commodity can be exchanged with so much of me. That’s what I did this morning. I was just at a wonderful concert that was “worth” much more than any commodity.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Signed.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka. Good to hear from you.
    And George, I’m glad you were at a great concert. We had dozens of friends round for baked potatoes and chilli prior to our annual trek up to Blackheath and back with tens of thousands of other people for the annual firework display, a civic ritual that always amazes me, as tens of thousands of people march up the hill and then back again, with some ooohs and ahhs as the fireworks explode and fill the sky, and shared food and drink, and a sense of community. The fireworks used to be shared by Lewisham and Greenwich, as the heath is in both boroughs, but Greenwich decided to stop funding it a few years ago, so it’s now thanks just to Lewisham that it still goes ahead. One borough’s council apparently understands that it is worthwhile to provide diversions enjoyed by many thousands of people; the other took the austerity route preferred by the Tories, and everyone can go f*ck themselves.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    5,495 signatures now! Please keep signing and sharing and promoting the petition, please, my friends: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I shared it Andy because it is official, initiated by our MP Heidi Alexander. Sadly, I stopped signing any petition that can share all my details on Google. I want my privacy intact. This one is genuine, thank you so much. It is important. We lost our nearest hospital long before this coalition. Our A&E is miles and miles away now. I know it from my own experience. Madness!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Dejanka. I know that we are many. I just hope that something like this, whose epicentre is Lewisham, but whose reverberations involve the whole of south London, is sufficient to mobilise us in sufficient numbers to begin to turn the tide on this wretched government and its obsession with inflicting misery on anyone who isn’t rich.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Kind of what happened in our nearest hospital during the reign of Labour as a result of their introduction to PFI in NHS. Tens of miles of driving in an ambulance so many times when I was so bad with my tahicardia after the first heart operation. I was so bad at that time that I refused to work after I had lesson with my students sitting there for an hour shaking violently. Thanks to my wonderful surgeon it was sorted out after the next op. So many times emergency hospital department was so crowded. Too many people seeking help. To this day I have dreadfull photos to prove it. Once I had six seconds of my heart not responding, with only one beat. I thought I was dying. It is just like they put you on factory belt despite their wish to help you from the bottom of their heart. They were not able to do it under tremendous pressure government imposed on them.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Levane wrote:

    I live in Lewisham and have signed the petition – Woolwich is a long way from here with no direct transport links from here, whereas Lewisham is very well connected. Other A & E departments have already closed over the yeats. Also, I understand that the reason the finances are soooooo dire is because of an appalling Private Finance Initiative – the Princess Royal & Queen Elizabeth Hospisals (I think in Woolwich) were built at a combined cost of £210 million, annual payment £61 million, that’s over 14% of income.
    The full cost will be £2.5 billion, so it is no wonder that the South London Health Trust is broke.
    Administrator Mr Kershaw’s plans include closing Lewisham Hospital’s A&E to bring more customers to Queen Elizabeth Woolwich even though Queen Elizabeth’s A&E is already struggling (Surgery 18% readmission within 28 days) because the A&E at Queen Mary Sidcup closed recently.
    There will be a public meeting at Lewisham hospital on Thursday 8th Nov 6 til 8 pm Lessoff Auditorium

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Leah, they just can’t cope with enormous amount of patients. They do their best under circumstances. I strongly wish our MPs should go there incognito and see with their own eyes the cause of their action. Of course, they will never do it.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka and Leah. I’m pushing the notion that what we need is a dedicated A&E for each London borough (32 in total, each with 200,000 to 250,000 people). Anything less and we’ll be powerless against the ongoing fragmentation of services, and closed hospitals.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    We’ve reached 5,631 signatures. Next stop 6,000!

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Levane wrote:

    I picked up leaflets toinight and will be distributing tomorrow…..I agree with you Andy.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Leah. I’ll be back on the case tomorrow!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Levane wrote:

    excellent Andy – a friend of mine was leafleting on this in Sydenham High Street yesterday and some people were convinced it wasn’t going to happen since there is consultation…well apparently the consultation is for one month and has already started..
    I cannot make the meeting on Thursday or the demo as I am speaking on Palestine…however, I will be at a public consultation meeting or two an also at Lewisham People Before Profit meeting tomorrow night where this is on the agenda….

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the consultation is largely for show unless we make enough noise, to be honest. No one should be complacent – that’s how these butchers have found it so easy to lay waste to so much of the country already! I’ll see you at the meeting at the Broca tomorrow. Small world!

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Levane wrote:

    Exactly – but we need to also be at those meetings mobilising protest…see you tomorrow and look forward to meeting you….

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh yes, we definitely do need to be at the meetings. I’ll be there on Thursday. I hope it will be big! And looking forward to meeting you tomorrow too.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Wow! 6,303 signatures. Excellent! Please keep signing and publicising. The target has now been raised to 10,000!

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I’ll share it again, Andy. It’s so important.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka. Nearly 700 signatures between 9.30 pm last night and 5.30 today is pretty good, I think. We just need to make sure that the momentum is maintained. I’m at a meeting of Lewisham People Before Profit this evening, where it will be top of the agenda, and also, of course, at the meeting in the Lessoff Auditorium at Lewisham Hospital on Thursday (the 8th) at 6 pm, with the MPs Heidi Alexander and Jim Dowd, Lewisham’s Mayor Steve Bullock and the GP and BMA member Louise Irvine.
    See People Before Profit’s website: http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.org.uk/

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    The petition just reached 6,500 signatures!

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Now on 7,354 signatures! Please keep signing and circulating!

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Levane wrote:

    good to meet you Andy and I am sure I will be seeing more of you in the future as I will be able to give a bit more time to LPBP…(also I sing in the socialist choir)

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I am so glad I shared Andy’s article. The number of signatures is rising. Also, it’s so lovely to see that you two, Andy and Leah, met at that important meeting. Andy, Leah is my real, not virtual, friend. She is the most active person in fighting for social justice and beyond I have ever met (apart from Rada :)).

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Likewise, Leah. Great to meet you too! And what a wonderful recommendation from Dejanka!

  40. Neil Molloy says...

    Great blog Andy.

    As simply a ‘concerned local’ I attended the Lewisham hospital meeting this evening, and was wholeheartedly impressed with the energy and momentum I felt tonight.

    I’ve now leafleted my street, had around a dozen conversations with passers-by and ‘annoyed’ four local businesses. Without exception, every person I have spoken to is disturbed by the current situation and feels frustrated by the fact that these proposals appear to have been railroaded ‘through the back door’. Hopefully this sense of injustice can be distilled into an effective movement [with teeth] before it’s too late.

    Best wishes.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neil. The energy was wonderful tonight, and if every concerned local spreads the word like you’ve just done, we’ll create something that these butchers will have to bow down to! I took a pile of leaflets and will be asking shops in Brockley to put them up tomorrow. I suspect hundreds of other people will be doing likewise!
    I’ll also have a new article up soon!

  42. Richard Warren says...

    Another example of uncaring selfish tory policies. Why are they closing this vital facility in a very overcrowded area of London? As if the casulty waiting times aren’t long enough now it’s going to take days to be seen all packed into the QE at Woolwich. People will be suffering and in some cases dying and all because these tories who can afford private healthcare want to open it up again and privatise it. On every occasion when a service or industry is privatised, up goes the cost and down goes the standard of service. The conservatives only care about themselves and the super rich. Ordinary people are an irrelevance to them except of course at election time. We need to stand our ground and fight this to the bitter end because once lost to private healthcare only, we will never get it back. Tories fought the NHS right from it’s inception and if allowed to get away with it will turn more of our great institutions into private only. It must be stopped now! Lewisham had a specialised maternity unit and difficult cases were refered there from all over the country what is to happen now to this rare facility? How long’s the waiting list going to be after Lewisham becomes a rich tory only hospital? No other civilised country would put up with this sort of destruction by these individuals that are taught from birth to trample over everyone. If this goes ahead then you know who not to vote for at the next election.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Richard. The worst thing is that senior NHS managers have lost touch with what they’re supposed to be doing, as I explained here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/12/05/save-lewisham-hospital-photos-of-the-protest-and-sham-consultation-on-december-4-2012/
    At the public meeting I attended, the medical directors of King’s, and of NHS London, who are both behind the planned “merger” of Lewisham and QEH in Woolwich, kept insisting that they are only interested in providing the best services, and that means fewer facilities but all providing the best possible care. However, they start off from having swallowed the need for huge cuts that Labour introduced and that the Tories have, of course, stepped up. In reality, therefore, they care less about the NHS than a majority of the British people, who would pay more for the NHS if it could be demonstrated that the costs were necessary.
    Personally, I think the money can be found, and this is what we need to tell the politicians, and the quisling NHS directors who have turned against the people. The very idea that Lewisham can be left without its own fully-functioning hospital, when it has a population of 250,000, and one that is growing, is obscene, and is obviously happening in part because Lewisham is a Labour borough.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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