Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.
At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.
The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had been 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.
The proposals had involved Lewisham, a solvent hospital, having its A&E Department shut, 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.
The struggle is not over, of course. Hunt has appealed (although I don’t believe that anyone expects him to win), as 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.
More troubling, as I explained in an article two weeks ago, is the fact that a merger between Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, one of the South London Healthcare Trust’s three hospitals, is going ahead as planned. The merger itself is not the problem, as it seems to me that Lewisham’s management would not have agreed to it unless they thought it feasible, but I fear what financial pressures may be exerted in future, because of the SLHT’s debts, running at £1 million a week when Matthew Kershaw was called in last summer.
Part of this debt comes from the ruinous PFI deals negotiated 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. I am reassured that Matthew Kershaw recommended that the Department of Health and the Treasury should cover the shortfall between the amount of income the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital can generate from patients and the costs of their PFI payments, estimated by Kershaw to be “between £22 million and £25 million per year, about a third of the overall costs of the annual PFI payments.”
However, Kershaw also recommended — and Hunt accepted — that £74.9 million of efficiencies should be made across all three SLHT hospitals, including the Princess Royal (being taken over by King’s), and Queen Mary’s Hospital in Bexley (being taken over by Oxleas NHS Trust), and the very real fear, of course, is that decisions will be taken about where the axe will fall that will reverse or endanger the huge success secured by the 25,000 campaigners in Lewisham over the last ten months.
While vigilance is required, supporters can at least let their hair down on Friday September 27, at a fundraiser and celebration in the wonderful 1950s Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, and can also join the Lewisham contingent in a trip to Manchester on Sunday September 29 to call for defence of the NHS outside the Conservative Party Conference. Details of those events are here and here.
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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Thanks to those who have liked and shared this. I would have posted it last week, but I ran into problems with the interface between Flickr and WordPress, which have now been resolved, I’m glad to say.
Interested parties might like this article by Annie Powell on Left Foot Forward, entitled, “Lewisham Hospital: Jeremy Hunt must disclose his reasons for appeal,” in which she states, “It matters that Hunt has not disclosed his reasons for appeal because he is using public money to pursue a case which he is likely to lose and which, despite his protestations, is not in the public interest.”
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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