For Lewisham residents, and residents of any other boroughs in south east London who are concerned about the future of the NHS, Thursday December 13, 2012 — tomorrow, as I write this — is a very important day. By midnight tomorrow, anyone wishing to respond officially to the disgraceful proposals to shut Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department needs to have submitted their responses. And before that deadline, between 4 pm and 7 pm, there will be a torchlit vigil outside Lewisham Hospital, which everyone is encouraged to attend!
It is too late to post your response, but you can still email your responses, although the best way to respond by far is to fill in the response on the website of the Special Administrator appointed by the government to deal with the debt-ridden South London Hospital Trust, based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which is largely in debt because of outrageous PFI deals. To help you, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has provided a step-by-step guide, and Dr. Louise Irvine, a local GP who has campaigning tirelessly against the proposals, has also provided a useful guide here.
Please do this now, if you haven’t already! Now!
The Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, appointed in summer by health secretary Andrew Lansley (before he was sacked by David Cameron), responded to the SLHT’s problems by proposing that it should be broken up, and that Lewisham Hospital — not part of the SLHT, and not in debt — should have its A&E Department closed down as part of a merger with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, many long miles away from Lewisham (and part of the troubled SLHT).
Queen Elizabeth Hospital is already catering for two boroughs, Greenwich and Bexley (after A&E services were shut down in Sidcup), and it would then be the only A&E Department for the 750,000 people in three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley.
A knock-on effect closing A&E, and replacing it with an “Urgent Care Centre,” which cannot deal with emergencies, is the loss of all acute services, which largely rely on A&E to provide them with admissions. Because of this, the plans also involve a proposal to downgrade maternity services, so that only straightforward births can take place in Lewisham, where, just to reiterate, there will be no facilities for dealing with emergencies. Lewisham Hospital would soon become a ghost, and this can also be grasped from the Special Administrator’s proposal to sell off 60 percent of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings, and to convert most of the rest into a centre for non-urgent elective surgery; in other words, a small private hospital.
As I have been explaining since these plans were first announced, on October 29, this is unfair on the people of Lewisham, who need their own fully functioning hospital, with its own fully functioning A&E Department — as do all the London boroughs — and the proposals have only come about because Matthew Kershaw, and the other senior NHS personnel advising him, have refused to argue for this. They claim that they are making decisions designed to ensure that only the best standards of care are available throughout south east London, but their decisions are dictated solely by the drive to save money, and not on what is actually needed.
If seriously ill people in Lewisham do not die in a rush-hour traffic jam if these proposals go ahead, they will end up overwhelming the A&E staff in Woolwich, and also at King’s and St. Thomas’s, where many will end up. Similarly, there is no spare capacity anywhere for any of the 4,400 births a year in Lewisham that might involve complications, and, especially, no explanation is provided for what happens when a supposedly straightforward birth unexpectedly turns into an emergency.
Many of us involved in this campaign believe that the time frame provided in the legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts (which is being used for the first time) is insultingly short (just five weeks), and should be far longer when the future of Lewisham’s entire healthcare service is being discussed. We also believe that the Special Advisor is acting illegally, as the legislation does not provide him with the power to decide what happens in Lewisham, which should be a separate matter. We hope that the new health minister, Jeremy Hunt, can be persuaded of this by lawyers before he goes ahead with the plans — in February according to the planned timescale.
We also believe that the PFI deals that got the SLHT into this mess — £210 million for two hospitals, £500 million paid so far, but £2 billion still owed! — ought to be renegotiated, on the basis that the companies involved are criminals, ripping off the taxpaying public.
For now, however, we maintain that it is crucial to realise that the government — and the senior management of the NHS — are playing Russian Roulette with our lives. Please respond to the consultation document before midnight tomorrow, and please, if you can, come to a vigil outside Lewisham Hospital between 4pm and 7pm tomorrow. Details are below.
The day of action begins at lunchtime, when anyone anywhere who opposes the plans is asked to protest in support of the hospital by wearing white, holding up a sign in support of Lewisham Hospital, taking a photo and sending it to the South London Press.
The details for the torchlit vigil outside Lewisham Hospital are as follows:
4 pm prompt: Local children are being asked to design their own placards — with their slogans, or stories in 10 words or less — attached to sticks or wooden spoons! We would also encourage the wearing of fancy hats if they are available, and warm gloves. Some hand-held lanterns are being made by organisers, and we ask everyone to bring candles in jars, or lights of their choice.
4.45 pm: A group of children will sing, “Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Kershaw.”
5 pm: A release of luminous balloons, and then Chinese lanterns, into the night sky — the silent part of the vigil, as we remember everything the NHS has done for us.
5.30 pm: Street-artist musicians ‘Les Zoing’ will be entertaining us, as they did on the ‘Great Lewisham March’ of 24th November.
6 pm: The Strawberry Thieves Choir will sing, and there will be communal singing from song sheets.
6.30 pm: We say goodbye to Kershaw’s report with a ceremonial burning of the last few copies! More entertainment follows, as we Lewisham people stand and chat with strangers and friends until 7pm or beyond.
Note: Please also keep signing the petition launched by Heidi Alexander MP (which currently has over 23,000 signatures and was handed in to 10 Downing Street last Friday), and download the “Don’t Keep Calm, Get Angry and Save Lewisham A&E” poster here, and display it prominently.
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, Ruth Gilburt wrote:
I was down at the hospital today, passing out leaflets and trying to get people to complete the online document…there’s still so many people who knew nothing about it.
That’s depressing news, Ruth – a sign of how successfully people have been depoliticised. Those who fought to secure rights for working people, and for the most vulnerable members of society, so that it was not just the landowners and the wealthy who had rights, must be turning in their graves. Everything our ancestors fought for is being destroyed, in the blink of an eye …
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
I couldn’t agree more….I just don’t get why otherwise intelligent people don’t appear to understand what is really happening under their noses.
Unfortunately, Ruth, many of those who have heard about the proposals regard resistance as futile. We are caught between ignorance and resignation.
Oh, and there are also those who believe what a panel of “experts” tell them, even though those experts have capitulated, without a fight, to the government’s arguments that the NHS budget needs to be cut savagely. I agree that savings need to be made, but not in this manner. We need to write off the PFI debts, and those in the NHS need to make a stand. As I have mentioned frequently, it would be obviously homicidal to propose closing the A&E Departments in Brighton, Newcastle or Hull, with similar populations to Lewisham, so why are the 250,000 inhabitants of Lewisham supposed to be content with a proposal that, at rush hour, an ambulance is supposed to be able to get them to a distant, wind-blown heath in Woolwich before they die?
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
I do hope you expressed it like that in question 14 of the online consultation document.
Seriously, the sane amongst us are doing what we can and must. With this particular set of liars, cheats and self-serving hypocrites, I’m not sure we can succeed, even with right on our side.
However, as I keep saying, giving up is simply not an option. The fight goes on x
Yes, I certainly wrote something similar in response to Q14, Ruth. I filled it in last night, but I failed to copy my comments, and once I clicked send that was the end of the story. I did wonder (a) why there was no official mechanism for acknowledging receipt, and (b) why you couldn’t submit multiple responses. Did I miss something?
As for success, I continue to believe that the proposals as they stand are illegal. I cannot see that it is acceptable to do such damage to Lewisham after a five-week consultation period, based on legislation for dealing with the financial problems of another trust.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
I also thought that – why no receipt or reference of any kind? I did copy my written responses but there’s no way now of knowing for sure they have been registered. Decidedly dubious processing.
I fully agree with you about the legitimacy issue but wonder when that has stopped this particular shower of liars from carrying out exactly what they want…
On the one hand, Ruth, I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me. On the other hand, though, and far more worryingly, how are we to know that our responses have been received or are being registered? Who monitors this?
As for the shower of liars in charge, people need to wake up and demand a government that puts the NHS first. With a broken economy that the government has no intention of even trying to fix, and is somehow getting away with blaming everyone else for, the NHS must be the top of the list of government priorities for the majority of people. Whoever breaks it will pay dearly at the ballot box, although, having said that, the Labour Party needs to wake up too, do some sums, and work out how to protect the NHS above all.
Solidarity from the States! I’m paying attention :). Seriously, don’t back off.
Thanks, Tom. Much appreciated!
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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