Save Lewisham Hospital: We March Again This Saturday, January 26 – Let’s Make It Massive!

22.1.13

Please come to the demonstration to save Lewisham Hospital this Saturday (January 26), and please also send health secretary Jeremy Hunt a quick email, via 38 Degrees, to ask him to save the hospital.

This Saturday, January 26, a huge protest is taking place in the London Borough of Lewisham, in south east London, in a last show of outrage before Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, makes a decision about whether or not to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department — leaving just one A&E, out in Woolwich, for the 750,000 people in Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — as advised by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed by Hunt’s predecessor, Andrew Lansley, to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS Trust.

Those concerned by this devastating assault on NHS services for the 250,000 people of Lewisham are requested to meet at Loampit Vale roundabout at 12 noon, for a march past the hospital to Mountsfield Park, where there will be a rally, music and a giant petition! Please, please come along if you can!

We know, from the huge turnout for the march to save Lewisham Hospital on November 24 (see my photos here), that the people of Lewisham can show the government what resistance is, when they are provoked, as they have been by these wretched proposals. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people turned out in the driving rain to oppose the plans to shut the hospital’s A&E Department, to cut other services, including intensive care and maternity services, and to sell off 60 percent of its buildings, leaving just the A&E Department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich to serve the needs of everyone in Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley.

Ever since, at the end of October, Matthew Kershaw issued his proposals for dealing with the debts of the South London Healthcare Trust (largely accrued as a result of disastrous PFI deals), by taking it out on Lewisham instead, the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital has drawn massive support from local people for two particular reasons.

The first is that people recognise, as I have stated repeatedly, that Lewisham, with a population of 250,000, the same as Brighton, Hull or Newcastle, needs its own fully-functioning hospital, as does every population centre of a similar size.

The second reason is that the people of Lewisham recognise that punishing their own hospital, which is not in debt, for the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS Trust, is fundamentally unfair. 125,000 patients a year use Lewisham’s A&E Department, over 30,000 children use children’s A&E, and over 4,000 women give birth there every year. It is a brazen lie for Kershaw and his team to suggest that all of these people can be dealt with elsewhere, or in-house in a severely downgraded hospital unable to deal with emergencies and with all the acute services that A&E supports.

These are the issues that brought people out onto the streets in such huge numbers in November, and I hope there will be a similarly huge turnout this Saturday. Since the march in November, the consultation period has come to an end, and Matthew Kershaw and his team have made their recommendations to Jeremy Hunt, who is due to make his announcement about the proposals next week, on February 1.

Underscoring the widespread disgust at the targeting of Lewisham for problems that have nothing to do with the management and operation of its own NHS trust, campaigners have been seeking not just to challenge the Special Administrator on an operational basis, pointing out how the huge impact on the people of Lewisham — including the risk of death for some vulnerable people unable to reach an A&E Department in a matter of minutes — is a disgrace, but also to challenge the very legality of the proposals, something that I have taken a keen interest in since the proposals were first announced just three months ago.

From the beginning, it has been unacceptable that the fate of an entire hospital, and the 250,000 people it serves, should be subject to the deliberately short timeframe enshrined in the legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts under which Kershaw and his team are operating. No doubt it suited them, as the intended butchers of Lewisham Hospital, to have on the statute book a derisory six-week period of consultation, followed by a final report and a final decision within two months (in other words, just over three months in total), but from the start it has not convinced the people of Lewisham.

Moreover, it may also be illegal, and while I have been away in the US for most of the last two weeks, and have been unable to follow every development closely, including the release of Kershaw’s final report (and the revelation that 90 percent of the 8,000 people who responded to the consultation were opposed to the plans for Lewisham, rising to 96 percent amongst Lewisham residents) it is clear, from an article on the East London Linesblog last week, that the legal avenue, as I fervently hoped, is being pushed by the local MPs, following up on the letter that was written to Jeremy Hunt by Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, in December. In that letter, Andy Burnham wrote, “Lewisham Hospital is outside the purview of the TSA terms of reference and I am clear that the powers associated with the Failure Regime policy were not intended to be used to encompass service changes in other hospitals and allow back-door reconfigurations of services without proper public consultation.”

As was noted on January 15, “Fourteen south London MPs met with Jeremy Hunt yesterday to challenge whether the NHS Trust Special Administrator actually has the power to make recommendations that would see the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department.” One was Heidi Alexander, the Labour MP for Lewisham East, who started a popular petition to save Lewisham Hospital, and who, as the blog described it, “met with the secretary of state for health last night to summarise the legal and financial objections” to Kershaw’s recommendations.

Jim Dowd, the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, told East London Lines that Hunt said he would “re-examine the legal case” surrounding Kershaw’s proposals. On Twitter, Heidi Alexander wrote that that Hunt “reiterated that he is seeking fresh legal advice.”

Heidi Alexander and Jim Dowd, along with Dame Joan Ruddock, the Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, submitted a report to Hunt, entitled, “The Case Against Recommendation 5: Service Reconfiguration (Closure of the A&E and Maternity Services at Lewisham Hospital,” in which they specifically stated, “We question whether the Trust Special Administrator has the power, in law, to make recommendations which affect Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust, and whether the secretary of state, in response to these recommendations, has the power to take a decision which results in the loss of A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital — a solvent, successful hospital which is not part of the Trust to which the TSA was appointed.”

The answer is surely no, but it remains unclear if Hunt will accept it. Jim Dowd told East London Lines that Matthew Kershaw and his close advisor, Hannah Farrar, who was impressive only in her coldness at the sham consultation I attended in Lewisham on December 4 (photos here), were “shamelessly brazen” following the meeting.

“Mr Hunt was predictably non-committal at this stage, simply maintaining that he would look carefully at the plans and re-examine the legal case surrounding the TSA’s meddling with a hospital outside his remit,” Dowd said, adding, “Matthew Kershaw and Ms. Hannah Farrar from the NHS board were shamelessly brazen in their refusal to listen to any alternative suggestions and their dismissive arrogance showed exactly why they were chosen to ensure the destruction of Lewisham Hospital.”

Dowd also echoed widespread complaints in Lewisham about the shortness of the consultation period, describing it as “a farce.” He added, “No wonder that the BBC Question Time panel in New Cross last week were uniformly aghast by the sheer lunacy of closing a solvent, high performing service to bail out its bankrupt neighbour.”

More particularly, all three MPs “also argued that the service reconfiguration proposed by the TSA fails all four tests set by the Government,” as ELL put it. These are: “support from GP Commissioners, strengthened public and patient involvement, clarity on the clinical evidence base, and consistency with current and prospective patient choice.” The MPs report concluded that the proposals to shut the A&E Department and reduce maternity services are “dangerous and ill-conceived.”

The report also described the consultation period as a “back-door approach to service re-configuration,” and urged Hunt to accept that, “if every recommendation, except for recommendation five, was implemented,” as ELL put it, then, as the MPs describe it, “significant savings can be made without closing emergency and maternity services in Lewisham.”

This important financial point was echoed by Dr. John Miell, a consultant endocrinologist at Lewisham, who spoke to the Observer for an article on January 13, which began by stating, “Angry doctors have condemned plans to axe their hospital’s A&E and maternity units as “financial madness” because the closures will cost the NHS large sums of money over many years.”

As the Observer proceeded to explain, “Senior medics at Lewisham, furious at it being ‘penalised’ for another trust’s failings, point out that SLHT’s expected deficit of £75m over the next three years could be cut to just £1.1m by implementing all of administrator Matthew Kershaw’s radical blueprint apart from his insistence that their hospital lose its emergency and childbirth departments.”

In his final report, Kershaw’s dodgy maths was shown up when he stated, as the Observer put it, that “closing the Lewisham units as part of implementing all six of his recommendations would cost £195m by 2015-16 in transition and capital costs, but admit[ted] that the move would take until then to start generating a £19.5m annual payback.”

As Dr. Miell explained, “It’s fiscal nonsense and financial madness to do this. How can you tell the taxpayer that it’s sensible to spend £195m to get £19.5m savings a year?” He added, “It’s completely unfair and ridiculous to penalise a successful, high-performing, viable NHS trust to bail out a PFI-burdened and debt-laden neighbour.”

Dr. Miell also said, “Staff feel 100% antagonism towards the plans, which are clinically unsafe, financially non-viable and totally unjust,” and informed the Observer that staff are currently writing protest letters to Hunt, who, as the Observer put it, “rates defeating a bid to shut the A&E unit at the Royal Surrey County hospital in his own constituency in 2006 as his proudest political achievement,” adding, “He has acknowledged Lewisham campaigners’ grievances and given them some hope by telling MPs that “[hospital] reorganisations are not always the panacea they are made out to be.”

That comment needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, obviously, as Jeremy Hunt may well want to downplay public opposition to the plans prior to his decision — not to mention the fact that he is a minister with the same government that spent a year pushing through a wretched bill to force privatisation on the NHS, which remains a huge and ongoing threat to the health service as a whole.

However, after my experience of the one sham consultation I attended in Lewisham on December 4, it was clear to me that one of the greatest threats to the NHS is its own officials — not just Kershaw and Farrah, but also Dr. Jane Fryer, Kershaw’s chief medical advisor, and Dr. Mike Marriman, the medical director of King’s, and Dr. Andy Mitchell, the medical director for the whole of the NHS in London, who also took part.

While professing to be interested only in providing the best services possible, these officials have accepted, without argument, the huge cuts imposed on the NHS, without pointing out that, to the people of Britain, the NHS is an institution more beloved than any other, which they would support with further taxation if it could be established that it was necessary to maintain services. Instead, we have a government devoted to the destruction of the NHS, and it seems, senior NHS officials happy to go along with it.

The biggest insult of the night, I thought — and one that needs to be pointed out to Jeremy Hunt if it hasn’t been already — was when Dr. Jane Fryer brushed aside complaints about the Special Administrator’s lack of a mandate for his planned destruction of Lewisham Hospital by stating that the carve-up of the SLHT had provided a timely opportunity for the reorganisation of NHS services across south east London, which would have happened anyway, but just a little later. That may seem like necessary opportunism to Dr. Fryer, but to me it stinks of a disregard for the Special Administrator’s remit, of the kind that the MPs have been challenging. Six weeks is not long enough to reorganise NHS services for millions of people, even if the legislation endorsed it, which, it seems increasingly clear, it does not.

I do hope Mr. Hunt is listening. Otherwise, the people of Lewisham will, I am sure, be letting him know that the fight has only just begun. When it comes to the NHS, there is, I believe, only so much that people will put up with from the Tories — and from NHS officials who have completely lost touch with the purpose of the health service — before they seriously begin to fight back to protect essential services.

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.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I would love to join you but have to work, unfortunately.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry you can’t make it, Dejanka. I would like to have seen you there. On the other hand, there will hopefully be so many people that it will be difficult to meet up with everybody, just like in November!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    By the way, the Facebook page for the demo is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/313847602060516/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Via 38 Degrees, I just sent a letter to Jeremy Hunt asking him not to approve the proposals. Please take a minute to send a letter as well, if you can: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/nhs-lewisham

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    If it helps, this is what I wrote to Jeremy Hunt:

    Please don’t accept the Special Administrator’s proposals regarding closing Lewisham Hospital’s recently refurbished A&E Department and the downgrading of other essential services. This is a move recommended solely for the purpose of saving money, and not through any clinical need. It will put a huge strain on other hospitals nearby, including King’s, and the proposals for A&E to be moved to Woolwich are nothing short of disgraceful, as Queen Elizabeth Hospital is far away, and difficult to access.

    Every population centre of 250,000 people, like Lewisham, needs its own fully functioning hospital. The proposals put forward by the Special Administrator fail to take this into account.

    Moreover, after studying this case carefully, I am convinced that the plans for Lewisham are outside the Special Administrator’s remit, and therefore illegal. The legislation for dealing with the problems of the SLHT does not extend to other trusts.

    I hope you will understand this, and will refuse to implement the proposals regarding Lewisham Hospital.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote, in response to 2, above:

    Yes, Leah is going to campaign too. You will see her, I am sure.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka. I hope to see many familiar faces, but also many, many more people that I don’t know, but who are waking up to what solidarity means. it means us – the ordinary people – against them, the vile politicians and the traitors in the NHS management. There are many, many more of us than there are of them, and it is time for us to wake up, to come together and to make them afraid of us. At present the majority of my fellow citizens are sleepwalking into great peril, turning their ire on each other by buying into black propaganda about scroungers and the undeserving poor, and forgetting that those who are actually responsible for the economic misery of the country as a whole are those who claim to lead us, and the powerful and almost unthinkably greedy interests they represent.

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