Save Lewisham Hospital: Legal Challenge Goes Ahead, Plus New Actions Confirmed

4.3.13

Please support the “Born in Lewisham Hospital” event on Saturday March 16, and, if you can, contribute to Lewisham Council’s Legal Challenge Fund to pay for the Judicial Review that has just been launched, to prove that the plans to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department and severely downgrade other services is illegal!

The struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from destruction continues, with undiminished energy, I’m glad to report. I have been a resident of Lewisham, in south east London, for the last 15 years, and I am proud of the creativity, commitment and clear-sighted indignation of my fellow residents campaigning against the wretched proposals to disembowel the hospital, conceived of, proposed and endorsed by both senior NHS officials and the government.

To recap briefly (although my archive of articles is here, and I also recommend the Save Lewisham Hospital website and Facebook page), at the end of October Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust (the South London Healthcare Trust, covering the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) proposed that King’s (in Camberwell) should take over one of the SLHT’s hospitals, while another, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, on a remote, blasted heath in Woolwich, should merge with Lewisham.

Kershaw was the first administrator appointed under specific “unsustainable providers” legislation, of which there are many critics (myself included), who see that trusts may end up in debt for all kinds of reasons, including, as in the case of the SLHT) monstrous PFI deals that ought to have been illegal. However, there was at least a certain logic at work with regard to the proposals for King’s to take over one hospital, and for Lewisham to merge with Queen Elizabeth.

This was not all, though. Kershaw also recommended that Lewisham Hospital should have its services severely downgraded — proposing that the hospital should have its A&E Department axed (despite recently being refurbished at a cost of £12m), and have 60 percent of its buildings sold. Campaigners immediately picked up on the injustice of punishing Lewisham, run by an independent trust and not in financial difficulties, for the SLHT’s problems, and also picked up on the alarming fact that, if the proposals were to go ahead, there would only be one A&E Department, at Queen Elizabeth, for the 750,000 people in three boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich, and Bexley, whose A&E Department has already been closed.

A campaign was immediately launched, which, in less than a month, attracted 15,000 protestors for a march and rally in the pouring rain (see my photos here), the support of Lewisham’s MPs and the council, and of the local newspapers — specifically the South London Press and the News Shopper.

As the campaign progressed, it became clearer how disastrous shutting A&E would be, as, without emergency services, hospitals wither. A range of departments would have to close, and, most alarmingly, 90 percent of the mothers in the borough of Lewisham would no longer be able to give birth to their children in Lewisham, and would have to go elsewhere.

Not only was it apparent that there was — and is — no spare capacity elsewhere (either for these 4,000 mothers a year, or for the tens of thousands of emergencies that Lewisham would be unable to deal with), but it is also unjustifiable, under any circumstances short of a total and calamitous national economic meltdown, for the NHS and the government to claim that, operationally, it is acceptable under any circumstances to tell a population the size of Brighton, Hull or Newcastle that it is no longer viable to provide them with comprehensive maternity services, including full emergency cover.

Furthermore, campaigners also questioned how it was that the senior NHS managers involved in advising Kershaw could justify extending the remit of the legislation — which specifically deals with trusts put into administration because of financial problems — to Lewisham, and we were not at all reassured to realise that what the NHS managers — and, specifically, the medical directors advising Kershaw — were doing was initiating a stealthy reorganisation of services throughout south east London, which involved sacrificing Lewisham, using the legislation as cover.

I have written previously about how Dr. Jane Fryer, one of Kershaw’s chief advisers, and the medical director of NHS South East London, admitted that this was what was happening. It is, of course, insulting that the NHS’s own medical directors are proposing axing Lewisham using the deliberately short timeframe in the “unsustainable providers” legislation — which is just a six-month process from initiation to ministerial approval — but many campaigners (myself included) also believe that it was illegal to include Lewisham in the proposals, and I’m delighted to note that, since Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals a month ago, Lewisham Council has taken the decision to launch a judicial review, challenging the legality of the decision.

This was first announced a week after Hunt’s decision on January 31. As the News Shopper reported on February 8, Lewisham Council “threatened legal action in a letter to Jeremy Hunt, unless the Health Secretary reverses his downgrade of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and maternity services.” The letter gave Hunt two weeks (until February 22) to withdraw his decision or the council would seek a judicial review. A similar letter was sent to Matthew Kershaw, the Trust Special Administrator (TSA).

The letter stated, “The council’s firm view, on legal advice, is that the TSA had no power under the relevant statutory regime, to consider, or to make recommendations to you about services provided by any NHS body other than South London Healthcare, the trust to which you appointed him. It follows from this that you, in making a decision on the TSA’s recommendations, had no power to make a decision which purports to affect the operation of Lewisham Hospital.”

Sir Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, said, “Jeremy Hunt’s decision to press ahead with the downgrade of Lewisham Hospital’s maternity and emergency services was a kick in the stomach for Lewisham’s community. The plans were roundly rejected by local people, by the staff who work in the hospital and by local GPs. We will now fight to save Lewisham Hospital by challenging this decision through the courts.”

Predicatably, Jeremy Hunt responded with a letter in which, as the News Shopper described it, he “maintained he was within his rights to make the decision” to severely downgrade services at Lewisham. At a full council meeting on February 27, “councillors from all parties unanimously backed pursuing a legal challenge, which is expected to cost around £200,000.”

The Mayor said,, “We’re deadly serious about this. This is not a gesture, it’s not grandstanding. This is a fight which we have to win and it’s a fight we believe we can win.”

The council has set up a Legal Challenge Fund to raise the money for the judicial review, and supporters can pay here. As the council explains, “In the event that the court awards costs in the Council’s favour or if for any other reason your donation is not needed for the legal action then the Council will donate your money to local charity Children First Lewisham, which was established in April 2002 to help children and young people with special health, education or social needs.

The Mayor’s statement that the plans endorsed by Jeremy Hunt “were roundly rejected by local people, by the staff who work in the hospital and by local GPs” was certainly true, as the Mail on Sunday reported on February 2 that Hunt faced “an unprecedented backlash” from GPs in Lewisham. The article explained, “In what would be the first walkout of its kind, senior GPs could resign over Mr Hunt’s decision last Thursday to disregard their views and turn Lewisham Hospital’s well-regarded casualty department — where 115,000 patients are treated every year — into ‘a tweaked urgent care centre.'”

Explaining how Hunt had sown “confusion among doctors and managers as to which services will be left intact at Lewisham,” after his approval — with minor amendments — of Matthew Kershaw’s recommendations, the Mail on Sunday stated, “Seven GPs on the executive board of the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which represents 170 family doctors in the area, are now said to be ‘considering their position’ after claiming their overwhelming opposition to the proposals were ignored by the Minister.”

Dr Helen Tattersfield, the chairwoman of Lewisham CCG, said, “There’s a view that if we on the CCG board can’t influence something as important as this then how can we expect to influence anything? It’s a definite option for people, including me, to stand down. Mr. Hunt has clearly ignored our position and we have not been listened to at any stage. He wouldn’t speak to us, but instead he was hearing from officials from NHS London and the Department of Health who are keen to produce this kind of result across the capital so were determined to make this work.”

After noting that resignations “would prove highly embarrassing and potentially problematic for Mr. Hunt because CCGs are set to take over responsibility for commissioning hospital services from Primary Care Trusts in April,” the Mail on Sunday added a further comment from Dr. Tattersfield. “We’ll have an impossible task to control our own budget  because we can’t control where our patients will go for hospital treatment any more. I’ve been asked to do a task which is no longer possible. None of us on the board are prepared to lead an organisation into failure,” she said.

*****

Below are three forthcoming events, and I hope to see you at some — or all of them — if you’re in London and willing and able to show your support. Remember, if Lewisham falls, no hospital is safe!

Thursday March 7, 6pm: Boris at Catford Broadway Theatre
Boris Johnson will be in Catford on 7 March to answer questions at People’s Question Time, a twice-yearly event where the Mayor and London Assembly answer questions from local people. The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign is mobilising to give Boris the ‘Save Lewisham Hospital’ red carpet treatment. Campaigners are invited to turn up at Catford Broadway from 6pm onwards and to create a carnival-type lobby outside the theatre. Alternatively, you can apply for a pair of tickets here – and let Boris know in person what you think of the plans. There are also some wonderful creative posters for the event, available to print here, and please also visit the Facebook page and sign up for the event.

Sunday March 10, 12.30pm: Millwall v Blackburn Rovers FA Cup quarter final at The Den, Zampa Rd, London SE16.
Save Lewisham Hospital campaigners will be leafleting this high-profile match from 12.30 until the kick-off at 2pm. Over 15,000 people are expected to attend the match, and the leaflet will advertising the “Born in Lewisham Hospital” event listed below. In addition, the rappers, Question, will perform their Save Lewisham Hospital song, either before the match or at half time, and during the pre-match warm-up the squad will be wearing a brand new set of Save Lewisham Hospital T-shirts in Millwall colours — white lettering on navy blue background. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign thanks Millwall FC for their continued support of the campaign.

Saturday March 16, 2pm: Born in Lewisham Hospital
As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, “If you were born in Lewisham hospital, or your parents and grandparents or any of your relations, friends or neighbours were born there, of if you want to continue the fight to defend the services at our hospital, come and join hands around our hospital and defend Lewisham’s maternity and children’s services!” They add, “We need volunteers to help leaflet and build for this important event in our campaign. Watch the website to see how you can help. Also please sign up for the event on Facebook.

*****

So this is a run-down of the position we currently find ourselves in, and the ways in which we continue to campaign to save Lewisham Hospital.

In conclusion, I defy anyone to argue that it is acceptable that a quarter of a million people should be told that providing a full range of services is no longer possible. I — and my fellow campaigners — are not arguing that all change must be resisted. On the contrary, we understand and commend the NHS for focusing certain emergency treatments at specific hospitals across the whole of south east London — cardiac arrests and strokes, for example — but we cannot accept how much further these proposals go, which, if implemented, would, within a short space of time, result in the 270,000 people of Lewisham no longer having anything resembling a fully-functioning hospital.

Note: I took the photo at the top of this article during the 25,000-strong march and rally against the proposals to severely downgrade Lewisham Hospital, which took place in January. See my photo sets here and here. I’m delighted to note that the image is being used to promote the “Born in Lewisham Hospital” event on March 16.

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.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this. It remains of huge importance, as the News Shopper reported today that ambulances were turned away on seven occasions in January in south east London – four times from the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough, and twice from Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, where Lewisham residents are supposed to be going in their tens of thousands every year. One pregnant mother was also turned away from King’s, another place where many of Lewisham’s 4,400 mothers a year are supposed to go). Cllr Chris Maines obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request to the London Ambulance Service. He said, “It’s astounding when hospitals are clearly over capacity at present to be reducing facilities in the area.” http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10265929.Lewisham_Hospital___warning_over_Woolwich_and_Farnborough_capacity/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Also from the article: “Another FOI showed there had been a 15 per cent increase in the number of callouts for life-threatening incidents within Lewisham in the past year – from 12,410 to 14,253. Cllr Maines said: ‘This is further evidence that the demand for A&E services in Lewisham are growing. Category A calls out are those life threatening call outs the ambulance service deals with. With ambulances having to travel further distances to an A&E, and having to then return to Lewisham to deal with other emergencies, lives will be lost.'”

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    I hope you can save your hospital!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    So do I, Louise, and so does almost everyone in the borough of Lewisham, it seems. I like to think that people power can do it!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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