Update February 7: The “Born in Lewisham” event mentioned below will be taking place at a later date. Instead, Save Lewisham Hospital have another event organised for the week of action: a rally at the war memorial opposite Lewisham Hospital on Friday February 15 at 1pm, to which everyone is invited.
From February 9 to 16, a coalition of Londoners from all points of the compass are uniting for a Week of Action in defence of London’s NHS services — and in particular, a number of endangered A&E Departments. Defend London’s NHS describes itself as “a non-partisan, residents-led campaign group bringing together Londoners from Islington to Greenwich, from Ealing to Hackney and beyond.”
As the umbrella organisation’s press release explained, “An unprecedented coalition of London residents, medical staff, trade unions and health campaigners has come together to raise the alarm regarding the biggest threats to A & E’s, maternity units and in-hospital care for a generation. The week-long actions will include protests, pickets, rallies, demonstrations, candle lit vigils, musical events and more.”
The organisers also noted, “Londoners have lobbied MPs to ensure that cross-party members of the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords participate in the Week of Action.”
On February 11, 2013, there will be a press conference, called by Defend London’s NHS and Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, at the Jubilee Room, House of Commons, from 10am to 11.45am, at which the full details of the threats to London’s NHS services — and the very existence of a number of hospitals — will be discussed.
As a resident of Lewisham, in south east London, I am well aware of these threats, as I have been engaged, since October, in the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department from closure, as part of a reorganisation of NHS services in south east London that would also see other frontline services — including maternity services — severely downgraded, and 60 percent of the hospital’s buildings sold off.
The threat to Lewisham is specifically connected to the fate of the South London Healthcare Trust, an ailing “super-trust” in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which was put into administration last summer because of debts incurred through ruinously expensive PFI deals which are so outrageously skewed in favour of the contractors and investors that they ought to be illegal. However, instead of tackling the PFI crisis, the government and the NHS would rather sacrifice hospitals instead.
Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed by the government to deal with the SLHT in the first application of legislation for bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the Labour government, recommend breaking up the trust, with King’s College Hospital in Camberwell taking over one of the SLHT’s three hospitals, and Lewisham merging with a second, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. This may be feasible, but not at the human cost proposed by Kershaw, who recommended closing Lewisham’s A&E and downgrading other services, leaving the 250,000 residents of Lewisham without emergency services, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital as the sole A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of three boroughs — Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley.
Last week, following a march of 25,000 people in Lewisham on January 26 (see my photos here and here), health secretary Jeremy Hunt approved Kershaw’s proposals, while pretending to offer concessions that are largely illusory. The struggle to save Lewisham continues, with a legal challenge being explored, and a strong conviction, on the part of the Lewisham campaigners, not to accept reforms that are hugely damaging, hugely expensive and also unnecessary.
We in Lewisham know that senior NHS management have been using the problems of the SLHT to try and force through a reorganisation of hospitals in south east London that they have long wanted to pursue, which has always involved butchering Lewisham, but we refuse to accept it. In accepting Matthew Kershaw’s proposals, Jeremy Hunt noted that £73 million has been earmarked for nearby hospitals, to deal with the tens of thousands of emergencies — and thousands of births — that Lewisham will no longer be able to handle if the plans proceed, but instead he has provided campaigners with a budget for keeping services in Lewisham instead.
As well as the threat facing Lewisham, the government and senior NHS officials are also planning to close or downgrade at least another 24 A&E Departments across the country, as the Mail on Sunday reported in September, of which seven were in London, although it now appears that at least eight London A&Es are under threat.
As Defend London’s NHS explained in its press release, four of those A&Es are at Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals, where a people’s campaign has been underway since last year to prevent the closure of these four departments — part of nine in total in north west London. For further information, see Dr. John Lister’s report for Health Emergency.
The press release explained that the government intends to proceed with the closures “following a botched three-month consultation exercise by NHS North West London that attracted just 4,000 responses and was heavily slanted in favour of the commissioners’ five ‘preferred’ hospitals: Chelsea & Westminster, St. Mary’s, Hillingdon, West Middlesex and Northwick Park.”
The press release added, “NHS North West London will make its final recommendations on 19 February, after which it is up to the affected local authorities to register their objections in order to force a formal review by Mr. Hunt.”
In addition, two out of four A&E departments in south west London are also threatened with closure, the four being St. Helier, Epsom, Kingston and Croydon University Hospital. In September, the Mail on Sunday also identified Chase Farm in Enfield and King George in Ilford as other hospitals facing the closure of their A&E Departments.
As the campaign also explained, “In some areas the axed A&Es will be replaced by Urgent Care Centres — GP-run walk-in clinics able to treat only a limited number of minor conditions. In other areas, hospitals in adjacent boroughs will be expected to take up the slack, forcing patients to commute miles further for life-saving treatments at hospitals which are already themselves facing acute bed shortages.”
The press release added, “At a time of growing populations and rising demand for emergency care in the capital, Defend London’s NHS believe this is both dangerous and short-sighted which is why we are calling for Londoners to act now before it is too late.”
The campaigners also noted, “The Primary Care Trusts are due to make their final recommendations throughout February after which their reports will go to Jeremy Hunt for a final decision. GPs, who from next April will have to make sense of the reorganisation when PCTs hand over to the new Clinical Commissioning Groups, are also growing increasingly anxious about the impact on patients. Indeed, one network of GPs in Hammersmith has already announced it is unable to support NW London NHS Trust’s proposals — so concerned is it about what the changes will mean for the health and safety of patients in their care. We share these reservations which is why we are calling for more GPs to join us in opposing the sham consultation exercises conducted by NW London NHS Trust and other London primary care trusts.”
In other developments, the Londonist blog also noted, “Hospitals in other parts of London are also struggling. Campaigners in North London say they are shocked to discover that the Whittington will close and sell off half its site, including wards and residential accommodation for staff. In-patient wards for the elderly and new parents will go and births will be capped at 4,000 a year.”
Londonist also stated, “Another hospital capping patient numbers is Queen’s in Romford. Its A&E was only designed to handle 90,000 patients a year but is seeing 132,000. This has led to some people having to wait 11 hours before being properly admitted — it will now put a legal limit on the number of people who can be seen if the hospital gets too busy. In other words, the A&E will be required to close its doors if there are too many patients waiting.”
Below are some of the events planned for the week of action:
Saturday February 9, 5-6.30pm: Candle-lit vigil outside Ealing Hospital.
Organised by the Save Our Hospitals Ealing campaign. Get in touch here. Also see Ealing Council’s page in support of the campaign here.
Saturday February 9, 5-6.30pm: Candle-lit vigil outside Central Middlesex Hospital.
Organised by the Campaign to Defend Brent’s Health Services.
Monday February 11, 2013, 10am to 11.45am: Press conference, called by Defend London’s NHS and Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, Jubilee Room, House of Commons.
At this press conference, which I will be attending, the full details of the threats to London’s NHS services — and the very existence of a number of hospitals — will be discussed, as well as plans to build on this week of action across London and nationally.
Tuesday February 12, 7.30pm: Defend Whittington Hospital Public Meeting, Archway Methodist Hall.
Speakers include Jeremy Corbyn, David Lammy and Frank Dobson.
For the latest on the threat to the hospital, see the Defend Whittington Hospital website. Also sign the petition here.
Thursday February 14: Valentine’s Day protest.
Save Our Hospitals Ealing campaigners will deliver a novelty Valentine’s card with the inscription ‘We Love our A&Es’ to North West London NHS. Get in touch here.
Friday February 15, 5.45pm: Singing Flash Mob at King’s Cross Station (New Departures foyer).
Organised by Keep Our NHS Public and Velvet Fist. There will also be a rehearsal on Wednesday February 13, at 7pm, at the Cock Tavern, on the corner of Chalton Street and Phoenix Road, London NW1. See here for a video of a flash mob in Madrid.
Saturday February 16, 12 noon: Ealing Hospital action, Ealing Broadway shopping centre.
Organised by the Save Our Hospitals Ealing campaign.
Saturday February 16, 12 noon to 2pm: Save Our Hospitals Hammersmith and Fulham demonstration, Lyric Square, King Street. Hammersmith.
In the evening, there will be a benefit gig at The Distillers in Hammersmith, with the doors opening at 7pm. See the Save Our Hospitals website here, and the Facebook page.
Saturday February 16: Save Lewisham Hospital action, entitled, “Born in Lewisham.”
Details to follow soon on the Save Lewisham Hospital website.
Note: This event has been postponed. Instead, Save Lewisham Hospital have another event organised for the week of action: a rally at the war memorial opposite Lewisham Hospital on Friday February 15 at 1pm, at which the speakers lined up include Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, trade unionists and community activists.
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, Kristin Higgins wrote:
posted this on my page for the uk people im not there so cannot support this
Thanks, Kristin. It’s a shame you’re not here for it. We need people to wake up!
Lorna Watson wrote:
Please sign and share to stop this wasteful road, housing, retail space development, the first of hundreds proposed in England and Wales. It emerged in an FOI response that the Department for Transport has NOT yet signed off funding for the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road! The Hastings Alliance has launched an urgent new petition to cancel it. PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE:
“Do not fund the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road – e-petitions”
Thanks for that reminder about the road protest, Lorna, and the petition, which is a worthwhile endeavour.
Lorna Watson wrote:
Thanks Andy. It’s sickening when people’s lives are being put at risk and being pushed into poverty.
Absolutely, Lorna. The NHS is the most beloved institution in Britain and with good reason. We would all, I’m sure, agree to pay more in taxes to support it if that was necessary, but instead we’re being told that cuts are necessary, and that we need fewer facilities to make sure that they’re of the highest standard, even though those proposing this – senior NHS management – cannot see that waiting times WILL increase, and travel times will be so long in some cases that there will be deaths that could otherwise have been prevented.
the first thing we need to do andy is round up every single mp of the last 40 years both labour and torie and hang or shoot them.all of them have played a part in destroying this country..while lineing there pockets….i find it incredable that the tories have such a hatred for anyone not like them or anyone who they cant profit from or is of no use to them revolutions are not peacfull andy things burn and people are hurt and killed thats the nature of revolutions..there has to be something better than how society is becomeing now andy it will lead to suffering and eventual global war thats the road were on now andy the sighns are everywere we need some kinda revolution to destroy hyper capitalisum and greed to restore some kind of natural balance..otherwise were fucked andy we realy are
it is in mans nature to destroy himself and everything around him we need a revolution of the mind ,and spirit to prevent this from continuing to happen,dxx
I hear you, Damo. The battle lines are being drawn by those in power, but far too many of the people who aren’t in the Tories’ chosen part of the electorate – the rich and super-rich thieves and criminals of the establishment, and of various banks and corporations, most of whom were also in bed with Labour – haven’t woken up to the fact that the gunsights are being trained on them. They’re too busy on their iPhones or their Androids, buying new gadgets or clothes, admiring themselves. They need to wake up before it’s too late!
Kassandra Allbright wrote:
Thanks for this and everything else you do, Andy. I wish that I could be there to take part in the campaign.
Your support is greatly appreciated, Kassandra. Thanks.
i shall be there on sat in hammersmith with a large placard saying ..hang or shoot all tories,lol,lol see you there
Good on you, Damo. I was hoping to be able to pay a visit, but I think I may be booked up in south east London. Give ’em hell! The council and the NHS management have been rather useless in Hammersmith, I hear.
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: