On Saturday, another high-profile event took place in the campaign to “Save Lewisham Hospital” from destruction by senior NHS managers and the government, with an event entitled, “Born in Lewisham,” in which campaigners showed their support for the hospital with a gathering outside the entrance on Lewisham High Street, and a rally afterwards in Ladywell Fields, with speakers, music and stalls.
The particular focus of the event was on people born in Lewisham Hospital, who were encouraged to show their support for the hospital by having their photos taken for a photo gallery (forthcoming on the Save Lewisham Hospital website) and carrying home-made placards or wearing T-shirts with personalised messages. Some of those photos are featured in this photo set, and the previous one which I posted on Saturday.
The protest was the latest in a campaign that has reverberated throughout London and across the country as a whole, with 15,000 people attending a march and rally in November (in the pouring rain) and 25,000 people attending a march and rally in January (see my photos here, here and here), an unprecedented turnout for a “regional” campaign — bigger than most national campaigns — for which the people of Lewisham should be extremely proud.
The campaign was established in October 2012, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed last summer to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (based in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley), recommended that Lewisham Hospital — which is not part of the SLHT and has no financial problems — should merge with one of the SLHT’s hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and should have its A&E Department closed and other frontline services — including maternity — severely downgraded.
In Lewisham, this would mean tens of thousands of emergencies having to be dealt with elsewhere, as well as 90 percent of Lewisham’s mothers having to give birth outside the borough. It also means that there would be just one A&E in Woolwich for the 750,000 people in the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, which is clearly unsafe and unacceptable.
As I explained on Saturday, when I published the first set of photos from Saturday’s protest, “People will die, as they try to reach emergency services many miles away, at rush hour, and, in addition, no one in the government or in the NHS’s senior management can explain how it is that we cannot afford to maintain the excellent maternity and children’s services at Lewisham that currently serve 270,000 people.” As I have mentioned previously, it is apparent to me that, to save the NHS, the people of Britain need to focus in particular on the medical directors of the NHS, who are orchestrating these deep and hugely damaging cuts, while pretending that they are improving services.
Reporting on Saturday’s event, the East London Lines blog spoke to Tony O’Sullivan, a paediatric consultant for Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, who said: “It’s a real disgrace, to downgrade a very successful hospital with a very important part to play in the community.” He added, with reference to the alarming lack of A&E services in south east London if the plans go ahead, “Taking Lewisham A&E out would leave one emergency department for 750,000 people across three boroughs. The Government’s plan is for Queen Elizabeth, Woolwich, to be the main A&E centre and, even at the moment, that’s stretched.”
One campaigner told East London Lines that, “had she given birth in the maternity unit envisioned by the Government [midwife-led, but without access to any emergency services], she and her child might not still be alive.” She explained, “I’ve had three babies at the hospital. With the second one, my womb ruptured, it was really life-threatening — for me because of a lack of blood and for the baby because of a lack of oxygen. If there had been no consultant, just midwives, like what they’re hoping to do, and we were taken in an ambulance to another hospital, it might have been too late.”
The judicial reviews
As part of the ongoing campaign in Lewisham, two judicial reviews have been launched. The first, which I wrote about here, was launched by Lewisham Council on March 7. A letter to Jeremy Hunt stated, “The council’s firm view, on legal advice, is that the TSA [the Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw] 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.”
On March 12, Save Lewisham Hospital campaign launched a second judicial review, and they also need to raise money to pay for it.
As their website explains, “The legal action, launched by lawyers Leigh Day on behalf of Save Lewisham Hospital, claims that the decision to downgrade and close services at the hospital is unlawful as the Administrator’s powers, and therefore the Secretary of State’s too, related to South London Healthcare NHS Trust only. They did not extend to the Lewisham Trust.”
Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said, “We have advised our client that the decision taken by Mr. Hunt to substantially cut services at Lewisham Hospital is unlawful. The consultation process which took place about the proposals was flawed, the four tests Mr. Hunt confirmed would have to be satisfied before any reconfiguration proposals could proceed have not been met, and the Secretary of State has misunderstood his own legal powers. We have written to the Secretary of State setting out the basis of our client’s case but to date, he has chosen not to respond. Our client has no option therefore but to issue proceedings and to request that the Court urgently intervene. The campaign is asking the Court to declare Mr. Hunt’s decision unlawful and to quash it, so Mr. Hunt can reconsider.”
The four tests referred to — in addition to the thoroughly valid claims that the TSA exceeded his remit in making decisions about Lewisham — were that the proposals had to have:
Leigh Day and Save Lewisham Hospital contend — accurately, I believe — that these tests have not been met. The full application for a judicial review is here, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the details of the unjustifiable assault on Lewisham by the TSA and the government.
As Dr. Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “We believe the decision to downgrade Lewisham Accident & Emergency and Maternity units was taken unlawfully as it does not satisfy the four tests that Jeremy Hunt himself set for any hospital reconfiguration. We also believe using the special administration process for South London Healthcare Trust to effect a reconfiguration of services in Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust, which is not part of South London Healthcare Trust, was wrong. This issue is of vital importance to the people of Lewisham who risk losing vital local services and are united in their opposition to the decision and their determination to defend our hospital. We look forward to our day in court to challenge Mr. Hunt’s decision, which we are confident we have a very good chance of winning.”
Forthcoming public events
In addition, further public events have already been arranged. This Thursday, March 21, there is a fundraising event for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign in The Stretch, part of Goldsmiths College Student Union, on Dixons Road, beginning at 7pm, and featuring music and spoken-word poetry from campaign supporters, local residents and Goldsmiths students.
The next big event — which is national in scope — is a lobby of Parliament on Wednesday March 26, beginning at 12 noon, to protest about the government’s intention of sneakily passing secondary legislation, relating to the wretched NHS reform bill passed last year, which would oblige almost all NHS services to be opened up to competition — in other words, to the encroachments of private companies, whose concern is with profits rather than health. See the Facebook page here.
Over 350,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition resisting these changes, which prompted Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb to state that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten. I took this as a victory, although no premature celebration should take place, as the Tories will still do all they can to effect their plans — probably through the slippery use of language which will scare NHS budget holders (in the soon to be introduced Clinical Commissioning Groups) so that they won’t dare resist the depredations of the corporate interests slathering to make a killing out of the NHS.
If you can, please come to this event. As the organisers explain, “If you’re in work take a day off, use up banked overtime, use up a day’s annual leave, get to the lobby. Don’t let the Government wreck the NHS!” For more information call 07904 944771.
Note: There will also be a London-wide “Defend London’s NHS” demonstration in central London on Saturday May 18, beginning at 12 noon in Jubilee Gardens in Waterloo (by the London Eye), followed by a march to the Department of Health and Parliament. Further details to follow soon, but in the meantime see here for the flier on the Keep Our NHS Public website.
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, 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, Dave GoatEars wrote:
didn’t know you were local mate
A Lewisham resident for most of the last 17 years, Dave. Very proud of the residents of the borough for fighting so doggedly to resist the dangerous, unfair and unnecessary downgrading of frontline NHS services.
Thanks to everyone following this story – or taking part in it. Some of my photos will hopefully be in the South London Press tomorrow. As for forthcoming events, the lobby of Parliament on March 26 at 12 noon is important, to show concerted opposition to the Tories’ plans to sneak through secondary legislation related to their NHS “reform” bill, which would oblige almost all NHS services to be opened up to competition, leading to wholesale privatisation. The Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/571798492839107/
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: