Just before Christmas I took part in a show about the threat to the NHS from the Tory-led coalition government (and from senior managers within the NHS) on the excellent community radio station Radio Free Brighton, which is based in Brighton, funnily enough, and was set up by my good friend Jackie Chase. I spoke about the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, and its success, over the last 15 months, in preventing the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the hospital as part of proposals for dealing with the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, although it is impossible to talk about Lewisham in isolation, as the threats we faced in south east London are echoed around the country.
The half-hour show, which is available here, was presented by Davy Jones, the Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Kemptown, and the other guest was Madeleine Dickens of Brighton Save the NHS (part of the “Keep Our NHS Public” network of campaigning groups). Jackie also provided some insights from her time as a nurse. What brought us all together was not only our concern for the NHS, which faces an unprecedented threat (from the Tories who are privatising it at an alarming rate, and from its own senior managers, who have talked themselves into believing that savage cuts to services can somehow improve clinical outcomes), but also our mutual interest in the role played in these developments by Matthew Kershaw.
When the plans for Lewisham were sprung upon us last October, just before Halloween, the suitably ghoulish figure elevated to the role of chief executioner (or the NHS Special Administrator, as he was known) was Matthew Kershaw, and when his work at Lewisham was done (and his proposals approved by Jeremy Hunt, only to be overturned in summer by a high court judge following two judicial reviews), Kershaw moved to Brighton, where he was appointed the Chief Executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.
Unsurprisingly, given his experience of taking a hatchet to services, one of Kershaw’s first acts as the new CEO last spring was to announce £30 million of cuts, prompting widespread alarm in Brighton and Haywards Heath.
I do hope you have time to listen to the programme, if the future of the NHS concerns you. If you are interested in taking further action, please note that, following Lewisham’s success, the government is cynically and arrogantly trying to pass new legislation designed to prevent what happened at Lewisham from happening again, by allowing ministers to draw successful and solvent hospitals into whatever plans they hatch for hospitals regarded as unsustainable.
In an article on OpenDemocracy, Louise Irvine, a GP in Deptford and the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Caroline Molloy explained more about the particular clause — Clause 118 — of the Care Bill, which MPs debated before Christmas. 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 [has been] debated … 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.
If you haven’t done so yet, please sign the petition opposing Clause 118 (which currently has nearly 144,000 signatures), and please also write to your MP to ask them to vote against the inclusion of Clause 118 in the Care Bill. Tell them their constituents will not forgive them if they play a role in dismantling essential hospital services.
You can also ask them to sign up to the Early Day Motion, “Closure of NHS Services,” if they haven’t already. Disgracefully, just 41 MPs have signed it.
You can also get involved in another Lewisham-related campaign, this time to prevent Serco, the scandal-wracked public sector outsourcing firm, from being given control of the Procurement Department of the new Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, formed following the merger of Lewisham Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in October. Please sign the 38 Degrees petition here, and then circulate it as widely as possible. It currently has just over 300 signatures.
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.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Just before I head off to the US for a two-week “Close Guantanamo” tour, here’s a recent interview I took part in, on Radio Free Brighton, dealing with another of my topics of concern – the survival of the NHS, which is facing twin threats from the government and senior NHS managers. My involvement in the show was based on my experience as part of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. I do hope you have time to listen to it.
Ruth Gilburt wrote:
Bookmarking it right now, Andy – good luck, as ever, in the US x
Thanks, Ruth. Keep up the good fight here while I’m away!
Pauline Kiernan wrote:
Thanks, Pauline. Much appreciated.
Pauline Kiernan wrote:
As always, Andy, it’s thank YOU. x
Polly Toynbee wrote about Clause 118 and the problems facing NHS personnel in the Guardian today: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/07/climate-of-diktat-and-fear-nhs
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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