The Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance, September 27, 2013, a set on Flickr.
Sometimes you just need to have a party and celebrate, and that is what happened on Friday September 27, 2013, at the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, in the borough of Lewisham, which is the last surviving unreconstructed 1950s ballroom in London.
Hundreds and hundreds of supporters of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign gathered for a Victory Dance — the Spirit of Lewisham Victory Dance — to celebrate the campaign’s high court victory at the end of July over health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital at the end of January, leading to two judicial reviews — one launched by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and the other by Lewisham Council — that ended in success on July 31, when Mr. Justice Silber ruled that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved the plans. See my photos here.
The plans had first 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 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.
As well as being a celebration, the event was also a fundraiser, as Hunt is appealing the high court decision, but no one seriously expects him to win. The battle to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, maternity and other acute services may not be over, as there will be new challenges ahead — this time centred on the merger of Lewisham Hospital with one of the SLHT hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which comes into effect next week — but we deserved a party after eleven months of campaigning that has shown dissent on an inspirational scale, with, at one point in January, 25,000 people taking to the streets in support of the hospital.
The bottom line is that every population centre of 270,000 people, like Lewisham, needs its own full range of services to be provided, and any arguments that fail to recognise this are dishonest when it comes to genuinely understanding and accepting the extent of the medical care that is needed by such large population centres. I have thought from early on in this campaign that while our actions have been giving hope to campaigners around the country, we have also given Londoners a rationale for campaigning for every borough to have its own hospital providing A&E, maternity and other acute services. I have no doubt that specialist centres (major trauma centres) for larger population areas — dealing, for example, with cardiac issues and strokes — are an excellent development, and a success story for the NHS in recent years, but current proposals to close A&Es and severely downgrade other services — not just at Lewisham, but in many other places in London and around the country as a whole — are unacceptable because they will endanger lives, increase waiting times, and make dealing with critical medical issues much more difficult for many people.
Congratulations to everyone who was involved in organising Friday’s event. It was a really great party, and another example of the solidarity that we in Lewisham have been showing the rest of the country since we were first threatened nearly a year ago. We deserved a celebration, but the government and senior NHS managers also need to know that we will fight again, and take to the streets with 25,000 supporters, if Lewisham’s crucial hospital services are threatened once more.
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 everyone who travelled to Manchester yesterday – including campaigners from Lewisham – to show support for the NHS at the start of the Conservative Party Conference. Predictably, there was almost no mainstream media coverage of the 50,000 protestors who turned up from all round the country. However, here’s a good report from the Manchester Evening News: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/pictures-video-50000-join-manchester-6110129
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