Save Lewisham Hospital A&E: The Massive Protest on November 24, 2012, a set on Flickr.
The rain fell, but nothing could deter the people of Lewisham — and supporters from elsewhere – 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 frontline services, sending emergency cases and mothers with complications to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which will then be responsible for the A&E of the 750,000 inhabitants of three boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley.
Faced with a derisory “consultation period,” ending on December 13, and an intended fait accompli, the people of Lewisham have been saying no in serious numbers — nearly 20,000 people have now signed a petition initiated by Heidi Alexander MP, and at least 10,000 people turned out yesterday, on a day that was so miserable and wet that only the hardcore showed up, the committed and the dedicated, and there were at least 10,000 of us! 10,000 people believing in the need to preserve Lewisham Hospital as a fully functioning hospital for the 250,000 people who use it and rely on it.
The numbers are disputed. The BBC, lamely, opted for just 2,000, which was absurd, but those who were there on the day were estimating between 8,000 and 12,000, and the traffic controllers put the figure at 15,000. That is unheard of, these days, and it is a sign that the people of Lewisham have seen through the lies being peddled by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS special administrator, appointed by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley, who has proposed disembowelling Lewisham as a fully functioning hospital.
Mr. Kershaw has done this despite his mandate to deal with the problems in a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, responsible for Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, and two other hospitals in Bexley and Bromley, which Lewisham has nothing to do with. That trust, burdened by such monstrously distorted PFI deals that they ought to be illegal (£250 million for two hospitals that will be £2.5 billion when repaid, a 1000% mark-up), was nevertheless placed in administration in summer, and the plans for Lewisham have come about as Kershaw’s response to the SLHT’s problems.
Such is the deliberately short timeframe of Kershaw’s “consultation,” however, that no one is supposed to have time to prove that his proposals are outside his remit. Nowhere can campaigners find reference to the special administrator’s right to include other, solvent NHS trusts in the problems of the trust to which he was assigned, but the plan is for us all to shut up, to meekly offer our hospital to the executioner, and to let Jeremy Hunt approve Kershaw’s proposals in February next year.
The people of Lewisham get it, though. Whatever the problems of the South London Healthcare Trust, the people of Lewisham understand that they are being made to pay, and that this is unfair. They also know, in their thousands, what it means to have a full range of hospital services within reach, and can imagine the difficulties — quite possibly life-threatening, in the most serious cases — of having to get to Woolwich in an emergency, when — if — Lewisham’s ability to deal with emergencies will, literally, have been shut down.
They know that this is all about money, and that the money could be found if there was the political will, and they also know, it seems clear, that they will have to fight to stop the government and their lackeys inside the NHS from killing off the provision of NHS services in London borough by borough, starting with Lewisham and north west London, where there is also a huge campaign of resistance to plans to close four out of nine A&Es. In all, 26 A&Es across England and Wales are currently under threat of closure.
Yesterday was an inspiration, and I hope everyone in Lewisham, and others in London and around who can make it, will come to a free public meeting in the Catford Broadway Theatre this Wednesday, November 28, at 7pm, to continue the campaign and work out how to carry on showing the government that the people of Lewisham will not surrender their hospital to those who would destroy it.
If you want to pursue this, and the bigger picture of the NHS across London, and across the country, then think about what we can do — what you can do — to help set up and promote a London-wide demonstration in support of the NHS, and in support of fully functioning NHS services in every London borough, in the New Year. Otherwise, the Tories, with their miserable austerity programmes, driven by a politically motivated desire to destroy the state provision of services, will continue to work to fatally undermine the NHS, while wealthy, tax-avoiding corporations sharpen their knives and salivate at the prospect of the profits to be made from privatised healthcare.
Please note that, although mass direct action is, I believe, the key to defeating the proposals, it is important that as many 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 Twitter hashtag #thankslewisham, where people are telling their moving stories of how staff at the hospital helped them into the world, or saved their lives.
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.
On Facebook, Jacqueline Gemini Honeybee wrote:
Oh, what a great turn out!! Good on everyone for being there! x
Graham Williams wrote:
Sorry Andy this is the wrong thing to demonstrate about. We have a limited and diminishing budget in the NHS and need to make real decisions on best benefits for patients.. This is of best benefit getting expensive experienced care all in one place, not ok care spread out. Headline grabbing but the wrong argument and you know I care and have the facts. Let’s meet up soon as love to see you both. There are huge challenges ahead in cuts in the NHS and as staff committed to patient care we need as many people campaigning on the awful things happening hidden by these distractions, meet soon xx
Jacqueline Gemini Honeybee wrote:
I disagree. There is money enough for everything and it just isn’t being given to the NHS or to anyone other than those in big business. In the meantime, the NHS is being sold off piecemeal by the ConDem Government. Protests like this tell them that people still have the energy and the passion to care. That matters. It is about more than just Lewisham A&E.
Thanks, Jacqueline and Graham. And Graham, yes, I know how much you care and how much you know, but closing Lewisham’s A&E and downgrading maternity services and cutting other acute services will be the beginning of the end for Lewisham. Overloading already stretched services at Woolwich, or King’s and St. Thomas’s, is not the answer. The money can be allocated if the will is there, but the will isn’t.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
Great turn out today, Andy – saw many, but not you…but as I said to another friend who didn’t see me either, it’s testament to the great numbers of people there. As Jacqui quite rightly said, there is passion, commitment and it matters terribly.
The money and the will are emphatically not there in the place where these decisions are made. We all know why that is…and what despicable liars and traitors we are having to deal with.
Yes, agreed, Ruth. I saw many people I know, but was content not to see others like you as a clear sign of how huge it was! Very impressed with the people of Lewisham. It felt like local solidarity for the first time in my 16 years in this borough!
When I posted, “I was saved by Lewisham Hospital,” George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this, Andy.
Thank you, George. A quietly iconic photo, really – not because of me, but because of this lad and his placard.
[...] Andy Worthington: massive protest on 24 November [...]
[...] By Andy Worthington [...]
[...] services at our local hospital. You can read more about the facts in many other websites (try Andy Worthington and Save Lewisham Hospital). For me this was an emotional afternoon. I wasn’t the only [...]
Here’s a Stateside health care perspective. It amazes me that here is the only place without rational health care. I’ve lived in both the UK and in Asia. In London I never had to use the NHS, but felt good that it was there. In Japan I had national health care. Over ten years it saved me thousands in dealing with various problems. Now, here you literally can’t have a rational discussion about health care without lots of rightwing propaganda or racist garbage about Obama.
Also, the politicians love to abuse the word “entitlements”. Ok, here’s a question. What are the rich and powerful “entitled” to? Reallocate if necessary. But don’t trash the NHS.
Thanks, Tom. We are hearing about “entitlements” all the time here too – and always about poor people, and not about the rich and the super-rich, who do everything they can to avoid paying any taxes at all, because of their deluded sense that they are ‘entitled” to take everything while contributing nothing.
Have you done any work on this with Tony Benn? The last I heard he’s still going strong and will have his main site up again soon.
That’s good to hear. I just went and had a look at is site now. Some great observations: http://tony-benn.blogspot.co.uk/
I don’t know if anyone from the campaign has specifically been in touch with him. I would imagine he knows about it, though. He was always very well informed!
there trying to close charing x hospital and they are closeing the hospital in hastings whitch was only built 15 years ago if they do youll have to go either to ashford or eastbournr ..no hospital or a e for 70 miles good one condems
Yes, I’m in touch with one of the organisers of the resistance to the plans in west London – they actually want to close 4 out of 9 A&Es, including Charing Cross (in Hammersmith). I hadn’t heard about Hastings, but I haven’t yet had time to look at the grim picture nationally. As far as the government is concerned, the good old days of a universal health service are definitely over. There will be longer journeys , longer waiting times, and no doubt deaths en route to hospital in emergencies – unless you’re rich, of course, in which case you’ll have insurance and will go to the front of the queue to leech off the service that is actually paid for by taxpayers.
Do Cameron, Clegg and MP’s have their own unlimited health coverage that’s seperate from the NHS? The Prime Minister has his own 24/7 doctor, and that’s one thing. In the States, all federal employees have essentially single payer care. I’ve heard some Tory ministers say do away with the NHS. Right. If you do that, what will you replace it with? Do you REALLY want a Stateside system that lets people go bankrupt and die?
Two key things are preventing single payer from happening in the States. One is lobbyist money. Two is the MSM refusing to point out that “Obamacare” was written by a rightwing think tank. If we dare to criticize the White House, we lose access. The Democrats in Congress say blame The Other SIde for not having real health care. In the meantime, where the hell’s my govt. coverage? Me go back on private coverage? Absolutely not.
How sad to have such a thing as the National Health Service taken apart and ruined to enrich a few. As I have Asperger’s Syndrome, there is no way I would be insured except at a price far too high to afford.
Yes, they obviously all have private healthcare – or go to the front of the queue because of who they are. Essentially, they want private companies to have more and more of a slice of the pie, which will mean that universal healthcare, paid for by a share of everyone’s taxation, will cover less and less. Those who can afford it will buy insurance, the poor will be left with an increasingly inadequate service.
The situation is awful in the States, Tom, where healthcare costs almost twice as much of GDP yet fails to ocver so many people. Unfortunately, here in the UK, politicians with shares in private healthcare companies only see all the money they could be making …
Absolutely, Thomas. And the destruction of the NHS, sadly, relies on people having lost their empathy for others. I hadn’t thought of that angle before, about people with any kind of conditions being uninsurable, but I presume that’s how it works in the US.
I think people with Asperger’s Syndrome are insureable in the US but have to pay twice as much as everyone else.
That sounds about right, Thomas, and it’s been one of the wonderful things about the NHS for the last 64 years – that most illnesses and conditions are treated regardless of whether those suffering are able to afford it or not. It’s the NHS as a genuine universal insurance system that I love so much – an idea that shouldn’t be replaced by those pushing a cynical message designed to shift the burden onto those who are ill.
Can anyone legally be denied treatment?
Are there “pre-existing” conditions?
Has anyone other than Cameron ever tried to do away with the NHS?
Yes, I think that, technically, foreigners aren’t allowed free treatment, but in reality anyone who is seriously ill will be treated. The government – the last Labour government, if I recall correctly – once tried to make the NHS refuse to treat failed asylum seekers, but doctors, to their credit, told them they weren’t prepared to let people die on the pavement outside their hospital.
As for anyone trying to do away with the NHS, the answer is that yes, from Thatcher onwards, both the Tories and the Labour government have allowed the “market” more and more access to the NHS, privatising it by degrees. As with so much that is rotten under the Tories, it began under “New” Labour.
This mess is caused by the banks and their shareholders (namely Barclays, Taylor Woodrow and Inisfree) whose greed overrides concience. Why not use their greed against them?
If each of the 15,000 people who marched in Lewisham last year were Barclays customers, and they removed £200 from their acounts on the Same Day, in protest, Barclays would be severly put out (£300,000 suddenly withdrawn). Likewise, if honest shareholders of the other two companies sold a number of their shares on the Same Day, share prices would drop (and a small profit could be made when buying them back). The one thing bankers hate is losing money. Those with accounts or shares with these organisations should think on this possibility.
Thanks, Paul. An interesting idea indeed. If you don’t already know, Lewisham people Before Profit are very active against Barclays’ PFI involvement. Have a look at their website: http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.org.uk/
Annul PFI contracts petition
Why we are calling for PFI contracts to be annulled
The Public Finance Initiative was invented in 1992 but really came into its own after Labour won the election in 1997.
South London Healthcare Trust had two hospitals built under PFI contracts costing £210 million. They have paid £535million so far in 10 years. The contract provides for a further £2000 million to be paid over the remaining term of the contract – around 18 years.
This is the main reason why the trust is bankrupt and why the Tories have used a clause put in by the Labour government to impose a Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, to run the trust while coming up with ways of making it financially viable.
He is using this opportunity to demand the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A & E and Maternity departments and wants to sell off parts of Queen Mary Hospital in Sidcup. He also wants the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough to be either run by Kings College hospital or privatised.
Anyone with a brain can see that the main problem is the exorbitant payments being made by taxpayers under the PFI contracts.
Here is a link to an excellent Daily Telegraph(!) article about it: PFI – Where did it all go wrong?
And here is the link to BBC Radio 4′s File On Four which investigated how PFI contracts are being sold on to other vulture capitalists: File on Four: PFI Profits
Another excellent article from the Guardian on the PFI, Hospitals and Fixing the Libor Rate
They have protests against Barclays taking place throughout January, prior to the next big demo in Lewisham on January 26: http://www.savelewishamhospital.com/demonstration-26th-january/
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: