Save Lewisham Hospital: The Huge March on January 26, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On January 26, 2013, in Lewisham, in south east London, I took these photos of an extraordinary demonstration, in which an estimated 25,000 people marched from the centre of Lewisham, past Lewisham Hospital and up George Lane to Mountsfield Park in Catford to save Lewisham Hospital from having its A&E Department closed, and other services severely downgraded, including its maternity services.
It was one of the most exhilarating protests I have ever taken part in, a worthy successor to the one in the driving rain on November 24, when around 15,000 people showed up, providing the first thrilling indication that, in attacking the NHS in Lewisham, the government and the wrecking crew in the NHS’s management had sparked a movement of resistance that was spreading like wildfire throughout the borough and beyond. Yesterday, it felt like a continuation of that initial impulse — that something had been sparked which was finally waking people up to the understanding that, although politicians and bureaucrats wield often considerable power, and generally show disdain for us, in the end we are many and they are few.
The plans for Lewisham were put forward at the end of October by a government-appointed NHS Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, and his team of advisors within the NHS, as part of his solution to the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS Trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which is burdened with payments for PFI deals that are so exorbitant they should be illegal.
Disturbingly, the proposals were put forward by Kershaw even though Lewisham NHS Trust is not in debt. He proposes that Lewisham should be downgraded to become an acute care centre, but the loss of A&E and all the frontline acute services that go with it mean that, if the plans were to go ahead, it would soon be hollowed out, and incapable of providing the full range of services necessary for the people of Lewisham, a borough with a population of 250,000, the same as Brighton, Hull or Newcastle.
Under the plans, Lewisham would be forced to merge with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich (part of the SLHT), which is difficult to get to, and dangerously so at rush hour, and there would be just one A&E Department, at the QEH, for the 750,000 people in three boroughs — Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley. To add insult to injury, Kershaw also proposes selling off 60 percent of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings, and making most of the rest into a centre for elective surgery for the whole of south east London; in other words, a private hospital for those with money.
The proposal to disembowel Lewisham sends a clear message that the NHS and the government are punishing success and rewarding failure, and are doing so to protect the corporate sharks profiting from their PFI deals in the South London Healthcare Trust, where an investment of £210 million for building two hospitals was set up to eventually provide a repayment of £2.5 billion, at the end of which the SLHT would still not even own its own buildings.
For those wanting to know more, the companies whose profits come before the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of people are Barclays, Taylor Woodrow and Innisfree (which you may never have heard of, but which is, alarmingly, “the largest investor in NHS hospitals and healthcare after the NHS,” which “has commitments of £539 million to 19 UK hospital projects costing £4.9 billion.” These “comprise 28 hospitals representing around 13,000 beds.” Innisfree is also involved in PFI projects involving education and defense. For further information, see the recently established Save London NHS website.
In his proposals for the SLHT, Matthew Kershaw recommended that the trust should be broken up, which he is entitled to do, but as I have argued, and continue to argue, the legislation established for dealing with bankrupts trusts like the SLHT does not authorise a wholesale reorganisation of other trusts as well, and I wish to reiterate, just days before health secretary Jeremy Hunt makes his decision about the proposals, that everything planned for Lewisham appears to be illegal.
I hope the minister is paying close attention to the 25,000 people who marched on Saturday, a number so big that it felt to me that it was the start of some new political movement. That remains to be seen, of course, as it is notoriously difficult to mobilise significant numbers of people for sustained actions, but the timing and the issues — the future of the NHS, beyond Lewisham’s borders, and across London, and England as a whole — are certainly appropriate to spark mass mobilisation, of a kind that has largely been elusive since the wretched Tories seized power in May 2010 and began their vile mission to destroy the state.
A second set of photos will be along soon, but for now, please enjoy these glimpses of the day that the people of the London Borough of Lewisham resoundingly told Jeremy Hunt, David Cameron and the rest of the Tories masquerading as competent ministers, as well as Matthew Kershaw and the NHS management backing him, that their plans stink, that Lewisham needs to keep its A&E and maternity services, and that the cuts and privatisation aimed at the NHS, across London, and across England as a whole, need rethinking in terms of the needs of the people, and not the malevolent ideology of politically motivated austerity programmes.
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, when I posted the first photo from this set, eight hours ago, I wrote:
Here’s the first of my photos from today’s extraordinary and exhilarating protest, in which 25,000 people marched to save Lewisham Hospital from having its A&E Department closed and other services severely downgraded, leaving just one A&E in Woolwich for the 750,000 people in the boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley. Jeremy Hunt – and the NHS’s senior management – had better be listening. This is the voice of the people, and today felt like the start of a people’s revolution.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Wow, 25 000, that’s amazing! Well Done!
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Great photos, Andy.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
Pretty good report on Channel 4 news just now….didn’t see the BBC effort though…
Again, didn’t see you Andy, but just shows how huge the demo was. Really proud of our Lewisham residents and the many supporters from London who came along too.
Neil Mckenna wrote:
I saw some Beeb coverage at about four o’clock – perfunctory but with a few short interviews with demonstrators that got the basic points across …
Good to hear from you, Dejanka, Ruth and Neil. It really was inspiring today. I spent almost an hour without seeing anyone I knew – and that’s not because I’m a hermit, it’s because the march was HUGE and my friends and family were somewhere miles away. After walking to Mountsfield Park, it took an hour for those at the end of the march to arrive in the park.
Neil Mckenna wrote:
Great to hear there was such a good turnout Andy.
Saqib Ali Rafiq wrote:
I wish I could have attended since I live in New Cross now, but I hope it went really well! I was at work today, but I am sure that the good folks from Lewisham Islamic Centre (right across the hospital) were behind this fantastic cause.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this, Andy.
Yes, an amazing turnout, Neil. Really inspiring.
Thanks also, Saqib and George. I saw some representatives of the Islamic Centre marching, Saqib, although my feeling is that there could have been more!
Joyce McCloy wrote:
I hope the UK doesn’t end up like the US. Privatized health care means health care mostly just for the wealthy, and no health care for 25% of all citizens, and limited care, high deductibles, exclusions, denial of coverage for those who do have insurance.
In the US, many folks go bankrupt either because they can’t afford health insurance or their insurance doesn’t cover enough expenses. Imagine being sick and homeless.
Yes, it’s horrible, Joyce, and I catch glimpses of the perils of life in the US without the West European safety net whenever I visit. We pay, out of general taxation, around 8 percent of GDP, and I think our right to be seen in an emergency and treated appropriately without any payment will remain, but anything regarded as less than life-threatening will become targeted by those wanting to make money out of a service (the NHS), instead of finding the best way to finance that service.
Our doctors and nurses won’t willingly let anyone die, even though politicians have tried to make them do so for years (trying to exclude “failed asylum seekers,” for example, as though medical staff would let them die in the street outside A&E). But the enduring problem, given the greedy heartless scum in politics and their corporate chums, is the profit to be made. The US total spend on health is something like 16 percent of GDP, so figure it out – that’s a full 8 percent of UK GDP that’s not going into the trouser pockets of corporate interest groups. We need to start targeting the advisors (McKinsey and KPMG, for exmaple), the companies seeking to profit from privatisation, those profiting from PFI deals, and the politicians who have vested interests. And we need to chuck out anyone in the NHS who isn’t prepared to fight for Bevan’s dream.
Victor McAuley wrote:
Good man Andy, we also need to be demanding an end to NHS consultants double jobbing (NHS work and Private Work) and in the process creating waiting lists in order to pressurise patients to pay a second time for medical treatment – a total scandal. If govt (any govt) starts working for any other body other than the people of the UK then it is time to see that Govt gone whether it be CONservative, so called Labour or LIB dems – if they don’t work forthe ordinary man or woman then DON’T VOTE FOR THEM. Better to not vote at all than to play their game of voting for the least worst option.
Thanks for the comments, Victor. I would suggest there’s little chance of your first demand coming true, given that it was one of the essential compromises required to get the NHS up and running in the first place, and has never fundamentally changed. Right now, I’d just settle for those in positions of power and authority in the NHS remembering what the NHS is for, and not buying into the idiocy of cuts and business models – the kind of idiocy that leads to proposals to spend a fortune destroying a successful hospital like Lewisham, and that also involves numerous other plans to downgrade services at hospitals across London and England as a whole. Savings can be made, but no one should be accepting – or needing to accept – reductions in the services provided. The NHS is the most important public organisation in the UK, and needs to be treated as such.
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