So now we wait.
On Saturday, as this second set of my photos shows — following on from the first set here — around 25,000 people marched through Lewisham, in south east London, to a rally in Mountsfield Park in Catford, to deliver a powerful rebuke to senior NHS officials, and to the government.
In the first set, I focused on the initial gathering in the centre of Lewisham, and in this second set I photographed the march through the streets, past shoppers and car drivers earnestly honking their horns in support, past Lewisham Hospital, and on to Mountsfield Park in Catford, where there were speakers including Louise Irvine, a Deptford GP and the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Heidi Alexander MP, who introduced a successful petition to save Lewisham Hospital, which now has over 30,000 signatures.
There was also music, a number of food stalls and a giant petition, and it felt, just for a few hours, as though a velvet revolution was beginning. It is certainly true that only huge numbers — like the numbers seen on Saturday — can genuinely alarm those in power, but it remains to be seen, of course, if such numbers can be mobilised again, not just for Lewisham, but across London, and throughout England as a whole, as the long years of this wretched coalition government — arrogant and cruel, to an extent that is almost beyond belief, and without a genuine mandate — continue to grind away at the very structure of civil society, hurling more and more of the most vulnerable members of society into genuinely alarming poverty, while continuing to destroy Britain economically, and doing nothing for anyone except the rich and the super-rich — the bankers, corporations and individuals who got us into financial difficulties in the first place, and who continue to avoid paying taxes on a colossal scale.
On Saturday, the rebuke that was aimed at senior NHS officials by the crowd of 25,000 came about because, in a team clustered around a Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, officials including the medical directors of NHS London (Dr. Andy Mitchell) NHS South East London (Dr. Jane Fryer) and King’s (Dr. Mike Marriman) have used legislation designed to deal with bankrupt NHS trusts as cover for a major reorganisation of NHS services throughout south east London, with Lewisham singled out for particular damage.
Despite not being in debt, and despite not being part of the failed trust in question, the South London Healthcare Trust (based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley), Lewisham is to be punished by having its A&E Department closed (even though it has only just been refurbished at a cost of £12 million), other frontline services downgraded or closed, and 60 percent of its buildings sold. Under these proposals, one A&E Department — at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, part of the indebted SLHT — will be the only A&E for the 750,000 people in three boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, where the A&E Department was also closed down.
The protestors in Lewisham on Saturday were directing their message at the government, as well as the NHS officials responsible for the proposals to disembowel Lewisham Hospital, because Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will decide this week, or perhaps early next week, whether to accept the Special Administrator’s proposals, or whether to spare Lewisham.
Please write to Jeremy Hunt now, if you haven’t already, to urge him to save Lewisham Hospital.
The health secretary has been told repeatedly that the Special Administrator has exceeded his remit by deciding to include Lewisham in his deliberations regarding the SLHT, and those of us who have been working on the campaign believe that he does not want to face a legal challenge that, logic dictates, he would lose. In addition, although the legislation allowing a bankrupt trust to be carved up also obliges changes to take place within a very short timeframe — a consultation period of just five weeks, for example, as happened with these proposals — a proper reorganisation of NHS services throughout south east London, including the destruction of vital hospital services, would not be allowed to be rushed through in such a short period of time. The NHS officials want to push through their changes under the cover of this legislation, as Dr. Jane Fryer stated publicly at a consultation in Lewisham in December, but it seems clear to me, and to others involved in the campaign, that they are not legally entitled to do so.
Additionally, what the proposals also disguise is the fact that all of these problems have arisen specifically because of the ruinous PFI deals that have crippled the South London Healthcare Trust, and that should be written off. Matthew Kershaw has partly accepted this, and has proposed that the government should swallow some of the debt — no doubt only to make the SLHT more attractive to investors — but anyone who looks at the nature of the deal — a £2.5 billion repayment for two hospital that cost £210 million to build — will realise that those profiting from the deal — Barclays, Innisfree and Taylor Woodrow — are, essentially, thieves, prepared to damage the health services on which hundreds of thousands of people depend, to ensure their own disturbingly disproportionate profits.
For those wishing to focus their ire solely on the government, because of its evident hostility towards the NHS, as made clear in its stealth privatisation bill, passed last year, it is important to remember that, although the government is not to be trusted, the people of Lewisham have genuinely been sold out by the NHS officials supposedly responsible for their care. Although these officials bleat on about needing to concentrate care in fewer locations to ensure excellent standards, they are conducting their deliberations not on a basis of clinical need, but on the basis of money — the programme of £20 billion savings introduced under Labour, and the cuts that appear to be the Tories’ sole reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Lewisham has a population the same as Brighton, Hull and Newcastle, and the notion that it can have its A&E Department shut, and other services severely downgraded or shut down without having a damaging effect on the people of Lewisham, and on neighbouring NHS trusts, is ridiculous. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which already struggles to serves the A&E demands of two boroughs, is too far from Lewisham, and too poorly served by public transport, to safely ensure that those most in need of a distant A&E Department — the poor and elderly, for example — would get there without someone, at some point dying en route, and the knock-on effect of crippling Lewisham would also impose a huge strain on other neighbouring hospitals, in particular King’s, in Camberwell, which is also struggling — very literally — to cope at present, without having to try to deal with thousands more visitors from Lewisham.
Similarly, spare capacity elsewhere simply does not exist for the 4,400 or so women who currently give birth in Lewisham, and who, if the plans go ahead, will not be able to give birth in Lewisham unless it can be guaranteed that there will be no complications with their births, once Lewisham Hospital has been gutted of the ability to deal with any front line emergency situations.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, we are now waiting — for Jeremy Hunt to save Lewisham Hospital. If he doesn’t, the struggle will continue, but even if he does, dozens of other hospitals in London, and elsewhere in the country, are under threat and need our support. As Nye Bevan, the health minister when the NHS was introduced in 1948, stated, in a rallying cry that remains just as powerful today as it was when the NHS began, “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”
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.
Great pics & comment; for every marcher, I’d reckon 3 behind them who can’t go due to disability/travel costs/commitments/illness.
Thanks, Chris. Yes, a very good point. It was the first time since Iraq that I felt that we the protestors were able to match in numbers the hordes of the indifferent – those shopping, in other words, or watching sport. After the rally in Mountsfield Park, I made my way back to Lewisham, where I’d left my bike, and popped into the shopping centre. Although it was busy, it really didn’t feel like the zombie consumers were winning. Clearly, people had felt mobilised enough to make sure that they didn’t cop out, and had emphasised that to their friends and family too.
On Facebook, Neil Mckenna wrote:
I saw one demonstrator say on the news that Lewisham A & E is currently the point of referral for 75,000 people. Woolwich A & E is to now take 750,000?! That’s one absurd hike in ratio.
750,000 is the total population of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, Neil, who will all be supposed to make their way to Queen Elizabeth on, literally, a blasted heath in the middle of nowhere, which is four, five or even six miles from Lewisham. 75,000 is the number of people currently seen on an annual basis in Lewisham’s A&E. It is claimed – spuriously – that 80 percent of this number will continue to be seen in Lewisham’s “acute care centre” (the replacement for A&E), but a) that appears to be a porkie, and b) even so, it leaves 15,000 severely injured people in search of an alternative hospital!
Neil Mckenna wrote:
Dangerous and, as you say, fundamentally unfair.
Absolutely, Neil. By the way, people can still write to Jeremy Hunt, via 38 Degrees, to tell him not to accept the proposals. It would be good to swamp him this week, to let him know we mean business! https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/nhs-save-lewisham-hospital-speakout?js=false
i didnt think it possible people are starting to fight back i enjoyed myself there lets hope the velvet revolution continues
Yes, it was quite something, wasn’t it, Damo? I didn’t know you were there. It would have been nice to say hello.
well we will meet the next time it was a good day like the big march in town last sept ..but its ironic how the useless sniverling toff cam oron freeloaded and used the nhs for his own sick son [poor boy] now ,,,it,,,,wants to deprive other people of getting medical care for there sick children…funny that?
Cameron’s not really fully human, is he, Damo? He sways in the wind, mouthing off about anything and everything, his thoughts informed solely by the spinmeisters.
Hunt just announced that he’s accepting pretty much all of Kershaw’s proposals. The next demo is tonight, 6pm, Lewisham Hospital.
sorry andy cant do tonight,but i was reading the i paper yesterday which is actualy very anti torie and they were saying about the cuts to council tax benifits ie the poorest people are gonna [people already on benefits] getting council tax bill of up to£600 THERE TRYINGTO IMPLIMENT THIS WITHIN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS the vile torie cunts,lol
Haven’t seen that announcement yet, Damo. It wouldn’t surprise me, though. They want to squeeze and squeeze the poor – whether the working poor or the unemployed – but it’s not going to work. People without money can’t pay, and eventually it will become apparent that benefits have been subsidising wages for years, as the cost of living is too expensive for millions of working people. In the meantime, however, there will be more misery as a result of the cruel policies of these wretched Tory scumbags.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: