Please sign the petition to save Lewisham’s A&E and maternity services and send it on to your friends and family. Over 16,000 people have already signed!
And here are the crucial dates for your diary:
This Saturday, November 24, “Hands Around Our Hospital” is a major march and rally in Lewisham, with the intention of attracting at least 5,000 protestors to show the government that the people of Lewisham will not accept plans to close the A&E Department and downgrade maternity services to pay for debts elsewhere in the NHS. Meet at Loampit Vale roundabout at 2pm, and link hands around the hospital at 3pm. Afterwards there will be a rally in Ladywell Fields, with speakers including local GP, Dr. Louise Irvine, Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, and other health workers and patients. If you want to help, see here.
Next Wednesday, November 28, there is a Public Meeting at Catford Broadway Theatre, at 7pm, with speakers including Dr. Louise Irvine and Dr. John Lister, who featured prominently in “Wake Up Call,” a film by Anne-Marie Sweeney, produced last year for Keep Our NHS Public and Health Emergency.
In Lewisham, in south east London, the campaign to stop the destruction of Lewisham Hospital’s services, by closing its A&E Department and downgrading its maternity services, so that all emergencies will have to be dealt with at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, is building into a force to be reckoned with.
The campaign started on October 29, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS special administrator, appointed by Andrew Lansley, the butcher of the NHS, issued his solution to the debts of the South London Healthcare Trust, which runs three hospitals — Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, The Princess Royal in Orpington and Queen Mary’s in Sidcup — but was placed in administration in summer, largely because of its PFI debts, when the government’s “Regime for Unsustainable NHS Providers” was enacted for the first time.
Under the proposals, the period for consultation regarding the plans ends on December 13, and it is clear that the government hopes to push the changes through in the New Year, even though there is no justification for punishing Lewisham for the difficulties faced by the South London Healthcare Trust.
In his report, Kershaw not only recommended that the SLHT should be broken up, but also that Lewisham — not in debt, and nothing to do with its neighbour’s debts — should have its A&E Department axed (despite it recently having a £12 million refit), and probably have its maternity services — and other services — downgraded too. Under the plans, A&E would be replaced with an “acute care centre,” which, by definition, cannot deal with genuine emergencies.
Anyone suffering from serious accidents and emergencies, under Kershaw’s plans, will have to travel to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which will then be the only A&E Department for the 750,000 people in three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. At rush hour, it seems clear to me, people will die before they get to Woolwich from Lewisham, but even without looking at the worst case scenarios, it is too far, and too badly served by public transport, for the majority of those who need services to be in Lewisham — those who are elderly and poor, off example — to get there.
So this outrageous proposal, which endangers the lives of the people living in all three boroughs, must be resisted with the kind of opposition that cannot be ignored.
It is a complete disgrace that anyone involved in this consultation who genuinely cares about the health of Londoners would endorse a plan, solely on a financial basis, that endangers so many lives, and will savagely reduce the capacity of the NHS in south east London to deliver effective A&E services to 750,000 people. To be blunt, this would be unimaginable if the three boroughs in questions were Tory heartlands, and nowhere else, apart from London, is it possible for such large numbers of people to be deprived of essential front-line health services.
I grew up in Hull, with a population of 250,000, like Lewisham, but no one is proposing that Hull loses its A&E Department, because there isn’t a similar-sized population centre next door. With Lewisham there is, but if anyone in the government, the Department of Health or the NHS thinks that Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich is not already stretched beyond capacity meeting the demands of all the people living in Greenwich — and in Bexley too, since the A&E in Sidcup closed — they are either lying or so deluded that they are not qualified to keep their jobs.
This planned hatchet job is political, and is based on an assumption that hospitals in London can be picked off and closed down or sold off without the people rising up to resist.
Lewisham is not the only borough facing these dire threats to the very bedrock of health provision. In north west London, four out of nine A&E Departments are under threat, and the Lewisham campaign has already made contact with the campaign there, called Save Our Hospitals, with Eve Turner of Ealing TUC coming to speak to a packed house — actually two packed houses, because the first was so full — in Lewisham two weeks ago. As the Daily Mail (of all places) reported six weeks ago, 26 A&E Departments will be “closed or downgraded across England and Wales as part of a policy to centralise services — despite fury among patients and scepticism from medical experts.”
Moving forward, we need to make these ties stronger,and to begin mobilising for London-wide and national campaigns in the New Year to save our NHS from the Tory butchers whose mission to privatise the NHS has been apparent since Andrew Lansley pushed so hard to get his wretched bill through Parliament.
I can confidently say, as I did then, that the Tories will be killed electorally when the public realises what they are doing to the NHS, but it is important that no one who cares sits back and hopes that the pieces can be put back together afterwards.
The fight to save the NHS is now, and will be so every day until we are sure that hospitals are safe, that endangered lives are safe, that jobs are safe, and that no politicians can get away with dangerously undermining the fabric of the NHS. Money can be saved, but not at the expense of crucial services, and not at the expense of people’s lives.
If you’re anywhere near Lewisham, I hope to see you on Saturday!
Please note that, although mass direct action is, I believe, the key to defeating the proposals, it is important that as amy people as possible fill in the consultation form made available by the special administrator, Matthew Kershaw, before the closing date on December 13.
An important guide to cutting through the deliberate attempts to put people off has been provided by the campaigning group, Save Lewisham A&E. Please also follow Save Lewisham A&E on Twitter and on Facebook (and see the Facebook page for Saturday’s demonstration here).
Those in need of further advice in dealing with the prospoals are also recommended to read the article, “Learn to speak ‘Special Administrator,’” which explains what Kershaw’s jargon really means.
And finally, there are still opportunities to meet Matthew Kershaw in person, and to tell him why his proposals are wrong and will endanger lives and severely impoverish the provision of health services in Lewisham. See here for details.
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.
The petition’s still going, and currently on 16,367 signatures: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/
Also, there’s a new hashtag on Twitter for anyone with stories of how important Lewisham Hospital has been in their lives: #thankslewisham
And the campaign’s Twitter page is here: https://twitter.com/SaveLewishamAE
And here’s the Facebook page for Saturday: https://www.facebook.com/events/441225002591796/
Please like if you’re coming along, or if you support it!
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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