Just over 13 months ago, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a campaign against proposals — by senior NHS managers — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. To pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which had nothing to do with Lewisham (and were, in part, because of ruinously expensive PFI deals for two new hospitals), Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator, appointed by the outgoing health secretary Andrew Lansley, proposed closing Lewisham’s A&E Department, which would have had a catastrophic effect on all other acute services. Lewisham’s acclaimed children’s A&E Department would have closed, and nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have been unable to give birth at Lewisham Hospital, in case there were any complications. The A&E chosen to replace Lewisham — at Queen Elizabeth Hiospital in Woolwich, one of the SLHT’s financially troubled hospitals — is miles away, and would be required to serve not just the population of Greenwich and Lewisham, but Bexley as well, a total of three quarters of a million people.
Through a campaign led by a wonderful team of activists, local residents and medical personnel, and 25,000 people prepared to march through the streets of Lewisham in January this year, the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign — and Lewisham Council — eventually won. Although Jeremy Hunt, the current health secretary, approved Kershaw’s proposals in January, the campaigners and the council launched two judicial reviews, on the basis that the legislation used to deal with the indebted trust, the Unsustainable Providers Regime, didn’t allow the government to draw neighbouring hospitals into plans for dealing with failed NHS trusts.
The Lewisham campaigners secured a powerful victory in the judicial reviews, in July, but Hunt then appealed, losing again in October. This should have been the end of the story, but the ghoulish Hunt is back for a third time, this time with what is being called the “hospital closure clause” — Clause 118 of the current Care Bill, which is being debated by parliament next week.
Louise Irvine, a GP in Deptford, and the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, launched a petition on December 2, through 38 Degrees, entitled, “Jeremy Hunt: Axe the Hospital Closure,” which has over 123,000 signatures. Please sign it if you care about the NHS and the future of our hospitals, and please share it as widely as possible.
As Louise explained in the petition:
After losing in court, Jeremy Hunt’s trying to sneak a change into a law to allow him “to dismantle hospital services arbitrarily.” Even the very best hospitals wouldn’t be safe. This sinister clause is hidden within a much bigger piece of law — presumably he’s hoping that it will go through unnoticed.
A big petition can help stop this happening. When the bill is next debated, we can prove that thousands of us are coming together against these plans. Every signature helps sound the alarm. Every signature is a blow to Jeremy Hunt’s reputation, an extra voice against him getting new powers to shut hospitals.
Jeremy Hunt saw the public outcry the last time the government changed the law to damage the NHS. He saw his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, lose his job. The last thing Jeremy Hunt will want to see is 38 Degrees members coming together again to stand up for NHS.
On OpenDemocracy, Louise and Caroline Molloy explained more about Clause 118. They wrote:
The government is trying to quickly change the law to make it much easier and faster to close local hospitals and A&Es without any proper consultation of local people.
The law change will be debated … on in the Commons on December 16th as part of the Care Bill, which has already been through the Lords. Clause 118, the hospital closure clause, would allow any hospital to be closed down, or lose its A&E, maternity or other services, with hardly any local consultation. MPs must ensure this dreadful Clause does not become law.
Currently the law allows such undemocratic and fast-track closures to happen only at hospitals that are in such serious financial or clinical difficulties that they are taken into ‘Administration’.
But the hospital closure clause would change the law. It allows fast-track closures — or privatisations — to happen to any hospital, however high quality, popular and solvent, if it has a more struggling hospital nearby. And given the cuts currently being inflicted on the NHS, there will be few hospitals in the country that aren’t somewhere near a struggling hospital.
As Louise and Caroline mentioned, MPs will be debating the Care Bill on Monday, so before that, as well a signing and sharing the petition, please ask your MP to vote against Clause 118 via WriteToThem. You can also ask them to sign up to the Early Day Motion, “Closure of NHS Services,” if they haven’t already. Disgracefully, just 37 MPs have signed it.
Louise has just sent out a message about Monday’s vote, involving the petition (to date) being handed in at the Department of Health on Whitehall, which is a good opportunity to secure some publicity.
As she explains:
The second reading of the Care Bill, to which the clause is attached, is taking place on Monday 16th December. We want to alert MPs to the existence of clause 118 and urge them to vote against it when the opportunity arises — this may be later in the parliamentary course of the Care Bill.
MPs need to understand the importance of this clause for the future of NHS services in their localities: that it will remove any vestige of democratic influence by the community, local councils or local clinicians about what happens to their local hospitals — regardless of how good a service they provide for local people.
So we’ve decided to do an “interim hand-in” of the petition on Monday. Come and join us on Monday at 1pm outside the Department of Health at Westminster! Lewisham Hospital campaigners will be there with campaigners from other hospitals under threat. We will make a splash and generate some press coverage to raise awareness of the clause amongst the public and MPs.
We will continue the petition and do further lobbying and a final petition hand in close to any crunch vote on Clause 118.
If you’re in London, I hope to see you there, but for now, please sign and share the petition, contact your MPs, and, for a musical interlude, check out “A Bridge Over You,” the Christmas single by Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir, a choir of doctors, nurses, therapists and many other professionals from across the NHS workforce who came together for the BBC series “Sing While You Work” with Gareth Malone. The video is below, and the single (in which Simon & Garfunkel meet Coldplay) can be downloaded here. Proceeds will be shared between Macmillan Cancer Support and local healthcare charities.
Note: Here are the MPs who care — this is a list of the 37 MPs who have signed up to the Early Day Motion, “Closure of NHS Services,” put forward by the Green MP Caroline Lucas. MPs who have not signed up (see a list of all MPs here) deserve to be told that, if the hospitals in their constituencies come under threat, they will be to blame. This is currently the case with all Lib Dem and Tory MPs, and most of Labour’s 257 MPs (although please be aware that ministers and shadow ministers are unable to sign up to EDMs). To reiterate, the list below is of the MPs who have signed up to the EDM, and have shown that they do care abut the NHS:
Heidi Alexander (Lab, Lewisham East), David Anderson (Lab, Blaydon), Hugh Bayley (Lab, York Central), Ronnie Campbell (Lab, Blyth Valley), Martin Caton (Lab, Gower), Tom Clarke (Lab, Coatbridge Chryston and Bellshill), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington North), Geraint Davies (Lab, Swansea West), Jim Dobbin (Lab, Heywood and Middleton), Frank Dobson (Lab, Holborn and St Pancras), Jim Dowd (Lab, Lewisham West and Penge), Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West), George Galloway (Respect, Bradford West), Roger Godsiff (Lab, Birmingham Hall Green), Fabian Hamilton (Lab, Leeds North East), Stephen Hepburn (Lab, Jarrow), Kate Hoey (Lab, Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab, Luton North), Glenda Jackson (Lab, Hampstead and Kilburn), David Lammy (Lab, Tottenham), Andrew Love (Lab, Edmonton), Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Gordon Marsden (Lab, Blackpool South), John McDonnell (Lab, Hayes and Harlington), Jim McGovern (Lab, Dundee West), Alan Meale (Lab, Mansfield), Ian Mearns (Lab, Gateshead), Linda Riordan (Lab, Halifax), Margaret Ritchie (Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down), Joan Ruddock (Lab, Lewisham Deptford), Virendra Sharma (Lab, Ealing Southall), Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), Andy Slaughter (Lab, Hammersmith), Graham Stringer (Lab, Blackley and Broughton), Valerie Vaz (Lab, Walsall South), Tom Watson (Lab, West Bromwich East), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen).
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).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Like certain kinds of undead, when you beat this government it comes back for another go. The only way to stake it is through a General Election. Of course, the MPs have perfect health care no matter what they do to the NHS.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
My latest article about the NHS: Over 120,000 people have already signed a 38 Degrees petition urging Jeremy Hunt to drop his cynical addition to the Care Bill allowing the government to close any hospital if a nearby hospital is struggling. This clause was added specifically because of the success of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please sign and share before Monday’s House of Commons debate.
Oh, we’re now up to 130,000 signatures. Great news. The petition is here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/hospital-closure-clause
Carol Brown wrote:
Excellent piece. I think if people don’t live here it must be hard to follow the whole saga.
Certainly it must be difficult for those who don’t understand the concept of socialised medicine that we have here, Carol, and that is such a great triumph of British post-war idealism.
Great to hear from you, btw. Hope to see you on Monday outside the Department of Health, if you can make it.
Perfect commentary, Thomas. I like the “undead” analogy. The Tories really are that ghoulish. I’m hoping that the NHS remains popular enough to survive this. If these scumbags can get enough of the middle class to buy into private healthcare insurance, it could be the beginning of the end, but even then the NHS itself is the backbone of the health system in this country, and would be providing the two-tier services to those both with and without insurance. That said, fighting the government – and deluded senior NHS managers – relentlessly is what is needed more than anything else.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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