For campaigners in Lewisham, in south east London — and for defenders of the NHS across the country — it has been a summer of celebration, since a great victory was declared in the High Court on July 31, and I draw your attention to three events taking place over the next few weeks — a victory parade and party, a fundraising night of dancing, and a trip to Manchester to protest outside the Conservative Party Conference.
Details of these events are below, but to provide some background, as I explained at the time of the victory, “Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, including shutting its A&E Department, so that there would only be one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and cutting maternity services so severely that nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have to give birth elsewhere.”
As I also explained:
The judicial reviews were launched when, in January, Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals for Lewisham, which were put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government.
Mr. Justice Silber ruled that “neither the recommendations of the TSA [the Trust Special Administrator] nor the decision of the Secretary of State reducing the facilities at LH [Lewisham Hospital] fell within their powers,” and also ruled that Hunt and the TSA had failed to satisfy one of four requirements for the proposals; namely, that the plans had “support from GP Commissioners” — something that was powerfully explained by Dr. Helen Tattersfield, the Chair of the Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group, in a submission that I posted here.
Despite this victory, the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital is not over. Jeremy Hunt has appealed — although it is difficult to see how the government can prevail in an appeal. As Open Democracy reported on August 22, “If the appeal is successful, no hospital, no matter how successful will be safe from closure in order to top up the finances at a financially-stricken neighbouring Trust.”
However, as Rosa Curling — from the law firm Leigh Day, who represented the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign during the judicial review — said, “We remain confident that the Court of Appeal will uphold Mr. Justice Silber’s decision and we intend to request an urgent hearing so the ongoing uncertainty facing the Hospital can be brought to an end as a matter of priority.”
More worrying, I believe, is the merger of Lewisham Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, one of the South London Healthcare Trust’s three hospitals, which is definitely going ahead and is, I understand, still scheduled for October 1.
This was a key part of Matthew Kershaw’s proposals, which tended to get overlooked in the campaign, even though it opened the door to the planned downgrade of Lewisham, and it is, of course, troubling that the merger is going ahead, because Queen Elizabeth remains burdened with a large share of the debt — running at £1 million a day — that led to the SLHT being subjected to the Unsustainable Providers Regime in the first place.
As the Greenwich-based 853 blog explained in an article just after the victory, “what will happen from October is that QEH will be taken under the wing of Lewisham Hospital’s trust. Hopefully, both the Lewisham and Woolwich hospitals will be able to keep their A&Es, but QEH will be able to improve under the skilled management of the Lewisham team.”
That is well put — and the article is also worth reading for the author’s analysis of how poorly Greenwich Council, the home of QEH, campaigned against Matthew Kershaw’s proposals.
It’s also worth pointing out, of course, that numerous experts are aware of the potential problems, as are the senior managers at Lewisham Hospital who accepted the merger. Of particular interest, in addition to Helen Tattersfield’s submission, linked to above, is a report by a team led by Prof. Allyson Pollock, “Blaming the victims: the trust special administrator’s plans for south east London,” which is available here.
The report makes a point of emphasising the extent to which the SLHT’s financial problems arose because of two ruinous PFI deals, for building Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Bromley, which cost £210 million, but, when repaid, will have cost £2.5 billion — outrageous profiteering highlighted in an article in the Independent last July entitled, “The funding timebomb that crippled an NHS healthcare trust.”
To recap, when Jeremy Hunt accepted Matthew Kershaw’s recommendations, he noted that “All three hospitals within South London Healthcare NHS Trust – Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, Queen Mary’s in Sidcup and the Princess Royal in Bromley – will be required to make the full £74.9 million of efficiencies identified by the Trust Special Administrator.” He also stated, “The Department [of Health] will pay for the excess costs of the PFI buildings at the Queen Elizabeth and Princess Royal Hospitals and write off the accumulated debt of the Trust so that the new organisations are not saddled with historic debts. It will also negotiate an appropriate level of transitional funding to cover implementation.” These are figures, and proposals, that campaigners across south east London need to examine carefully.
While we await further information about how Lewisham Hospital, its services and it staff can be protected once the merger goes ahead, the events mentioned at the start of this article are listed below, and if you’re anywhere within reach of London or Manchester, I hope to see you at one or all of them.
Saturday 14th September: Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Party, noon onwards
As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, “We want everyone who came on our earlier demonstrations to join the celebration of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign’s first victory — the declaration that Jeremy Hunt’s plans are illegal, and Lewisham Hospital will not be forced to close services! Meet at the roundabout at Lewisham Station, 12pm, 14th September and parade to Ladywell Fields, arriving there at 1pm. There’ll be local bands, Olympic ceremony performers, children’s sports, rides and activities, food stalls, beer tent, and updates from the campaign. This is a demo with a difference, the chance to enjoy the success we’ve had and demonstrate that we are not going to disappear (particularly since Jeremy Hunt has launched a legal appeal).”
Friday 27th September: Save Lewisham Hospital — Rivoli Ballroom Fundraiser, 7.30 pm to midnight
Come and celebrate victory — and raise money to challenge Jeremy Hunt’s appeal, at the famous Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, “The legal battle against Jeremy Hunt will continue because of his decision to appeal, and the campaign needs funds to keep fighting. The Rivoli Ballroom, local bands, DJs, artists and many people in the community have donated their time and effort to put together a fantastic night at the Rivoli Ballroom. There’ll be a raffle of great prizes, donated to the campaign — including an amazing Martin Rowson original cartoon, Eddie Izzard signed items, and Millwall FC goodies.” Book tickets here — £20 if you can afford it, although you can also pay £10 or the concessionary rate of £5.
Sunday 29th September: National Demonstration to Save the NHS, Manchester
Come to Manchester to tell the Tories what you think of their plans to destroy the NHS, and to create a movement of nation solidarity, using the inspiration of Lewisham’s campaign. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, “The government is on the ropes. They’ve relentlessly attacked the NHS from the safety of their parliament offices, but when they have the Tory Party Conference in Manchester, tens of thousands of people from around the country will get their chance to tell them that the NHS is not for sale. We’re arranging coaches to Manchester, and want to represent Lewisham on a national scale.” Get your coach ticket here — £20, or £5 unwaged.
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Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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And this is timely – an article about the success of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, in the Daily Mirror today (Sept. 11): http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/how-save-lewisham-hospital-campaigns-2265267
And here’s an update on what’s happening at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Bexley, one of the indebted SLHT’s three hospitals, but the only one that didn’t have a new hospital built through a criminal PFI deal. It’s being taken over by Oxleas NHS Trust on October 1, with input from several other NHS trusts, but it won’t be getting its A&E back: http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10666099.Queen_Mary_s_Hospital_future_secure_as_new_owner_s_plans_get_thumbs_up/
From the article: “But there will be no new A&E department to replace the one closed ‘temporarily’ in 2009 but never reopened, according to Oxleas medical director Dr Ify Okocha.”
Andy – congratulations! Now on with the fight…
(By the way,a timely victory in the on-going battle…Occupy turned 2 on Sept 17)…
Solidarity from across the pond!
Thanks, Jan. Really good to hear from you.
Thanks also for the reminder about Occupy’s 2nd anniversary. I admit that it passed me by, although the spirit of Occupy lives on, and I was mentioning it in comments just yesterday.
So to commemorate, here’s a Guardian article by an Occupy activist: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/17/occupy-wall-street-99-percent
And here’s info about “The 99%: Occupy Everywhere,” a new documentary narrated by Lou Reed: http://world2be.com/the-99-occupy-wall-street/
Here’s a round-up on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerry-ashton/occupy-wall-street-at-age_b_3972146.html
And of course the Occupy Wall Street site: http://occupywallst.org/
[…] Andy Worthington says ‘It is difficult to see how the government can prevail in Hunt’s Lewisham appeal.’ http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/09/10/save-lewisham-hospital-events-to-celebrate-the-campaigns… […]
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.
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