POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the “hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful.
The court ruled the plans were unlawful because the legislation for dealing with trusts in severe financial difficulties — the Unsustainable Provider Regime — does not allow the government or the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) appointed to make recommendations to include neighbouring hospitals that are not in financial difficulties.
Clause 119 will change this, making any solvent hospital close to a hospital in financial trouble susceptible to downgrades or even closure with only a cursory consultation process.
The Care Bill will be debated in Parliament on March 10 and 11, followed by a vote. Please ask your MP to vote against it, please sign and share the two 38 Degrees petitions (the petition handed in on Thursday, which was launched by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and has nearly 150,000 signatures, and a new petition, launched directly by 38 Degrees, which has secured over 150,000 signatures in just a few days), and, if you can, please come to a demonstration opposite Parliament — in Old Palace Yard by the statue of King George V — on Tuesday March 11 at 11am.
Thursday’s protest and Parliamentary meeting were inspiring — firstly in Old Palace Yard, as numerous speakers spoke about the incalculable importance of the NHS, and the dangers of Clause 119, including Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and June Hautot, a veteran campaigner, who practically encouraged us to storm Parliament, and whose passion I found inspiring.
Inside the Houses of Parliament, at the Parliamentary meeting, the inspiring mood continued. Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, praised campaigners, and promised to do what he can to support the NHS, which he called “the best thing about this country.” He said he took heart from the NHS campaigners, and added that he hoped he had demonstrated that we could trust him. See here, here and here for recent articles about Andy’s work on behalf of the NHS.
Professor Wendy Savage, the president of the nationwide campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public, pointed out that there are now 39 KONP groups across the country, and that nine have been created in the last year. She also urged everyone attending the meeting to focus on Liberal Democrat MPs in the run-up to the debate and vote on the Care Bill on March 10 and 11.
Wendy was followed by Heidi Alexander MP, one of three Labour MPs representing the borough of Lewisham, who worked hard to support the successful campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded. Heidi said that she and the two other MPs — Joan Ruddock and Jim Dowd — had written to all their Parliamentary colleagues asking the to oppose Clause 119, although she admitted that many of them don’t really understand its full impact. Speaking from our experience in Lewisham, she described the Trust Special Administrator process as something that “should not be used as a backdoor approach to the reconfiguration of services.”
Dr. Kailash Chand then addressed the meeting, conjuring up an image of Nye Bevan being there and shaking hands with everyone and thanking them for their contributions. Bevan, of course, was the Labour minister who presided over the introduction of the NHS, and who famously said that the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, who is a tireless campaigner for the NHS, was unable to attend the meeting, but sent her assistant along to read out a message of support, reminding the meeting that Matthew Kershaw, the Trust Special Administrator who tried to savagely downgrade Lewisham, then moved to Brighton to become the CEO of the Royal Sussex Hospital. See here for her most recent article for Open Democracy, published yesterday.
Caroline also noted that her Early Day Motion, “Closure for NHS services,” has only secured the support of 43 MPs, and called the recommendation for broadening the powers of TSAs, in Clause 119 of the Care Bill, “dangerous and undemocratic.”
Caroline was unable to attend the meeting as she was involved in a debate in the House, taking place at the same time, which had been triggered by disability campaigners securing 100,000 signatures on the WOW (war on welfare) petition. The petition calls for the scrapping of the horrendous Work Capability Assessments, currently administered by Atos Healthcare, which are designed not to honestly assess mentally and physically disabled people, but to find them fit for work so that their benefits can be cut.
Up next was Caroline Molloy, a journalist who runs the “Our NHS” strand on Open Democracy, who congratulated the Lewisham campaigners on the success of our campaign, noting that the short duration of the TSA consolation period — which is just 40 days — is designed to make it almost impossible for campaigners to mobilise. She also highlighted the insulting messaging of those deciding the future of the NHS, in government, and within the NHS itself, referring to an occasion when stakeholders in hospitals and the NHS were being discussed, but it was made clear that the public — the people the hospitals are for, and without whom they have no purpose — are not regarded as stakeholders.
Caroline also made reference to the PFI scandal that is contributing significantly to the financial pressure on the NHS, and noting the games indulged in by some of the major players. In Peterborough, for example, Price Waterhouse Coopers enthusiastically endorsed an expensive PFI proposal for a new hospital, and then, after the hospital was built, condemned it as a terrible deal. By last June, however, the new health watchdog Monitor had concluded that Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust was “not financially sustainable”.
After Caroline Molloy spoke, an apology and a message of support from Michael Mansfield QC was delivered by one of his colleagues. Michael had been detained in court, but wanted to express his support, which he had previously shown last June when he presided over the day-long Lewisham People’s Commission of Inquiry into the plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham — which, by extension, of course, provided an overview of the threat faced by the whole of the NHS.
Next up was Charlotte Munro, a well-respected, longstanding staff member and trade union representative at Whipps Cross Hospital, who was sacked because, as the Unison Branch Chair, she raised the concerns of staff over the impact of cuts on patient care with Waltham Forest Health Scrutiny Committee, and discussed the cuts with her union members. See here for the campaign to reinstate Charlotte.
After Charlotte Munro, Baroness Donaghy (Rita Donaghy) spoke. A former trade unionist who has held numerous positions in public life, and was appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer in 2010, she expressed great admiration for the NHS campaigners, and pledged her unconditional support for our endeavours.
Last up was Louise Irvine, who drove home the point that Clause 119 is intended to fast-track hospital closures, and is financially driven and not based on clinical needs. Based on the experience of the TSA in Lewisham, Louise explained that Matthew Kershaw showed “utter disdain” for clinical needs, and also ignored the opinions of clinicians.
Louise also pointed out that the struggle to save the NHS is a national struggle, as a third of hospitals at least are in deficit, and that number may be approaching half of all hospitals. This doesn’t mean necessarily that these hospitals are poor at what they do , but rather, as Louise put it, it may well mean that they have been “artificially financially discredited” — often through ruinously expensive PFI deals — and even though, across the NHS overall, there is a financial surplus.
As Louise also pointed out, the prospect of many more hospitals facing major cuts or closure is particularly worrying given that we already have the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Europe.
After the speeches, I added a few comments of my own — particularly, to point out, as I have before, that our experience in Lewisham showed me that neither the government nor the NHS is capable of making a coherent argument to justify making a population centre of 270,000 people — the population of Lewisham, comparable to Brighton, Hull or Newcastle — have nothing more than a severely downgraded hospital, with its A&E Department closed, and 90% of its mothers unable to give birth in the borough.
In short, our campaign taught me that every population centre of similar numbers — in other words, every borough in London — deserves its own fully functioning hospital.
I also asked people to look closely not just at the government but at the NHS medical directors who have played — and continue to play — a major part in recommending and endorsing the closure or downgrading of hospitals, and making spurious arguments that doing so will somehow result in better clinical care, when that is absurd. In Lewisham, we were forced to endure the arrogance and nonsensical arguments of various medical directors — of Kings, of South East London, and of the whole of London — and everywhere campaigners look, up to and including Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England — they will discover people in positions of great power and responsibility who have forgotten what the NHS is for, and who fail to fulfil Nye Bevan’s maxim that the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”
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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On Facebook, Tenzin Angmo wrote:
Thanks, Tenzin. Yes, in the UK I see the Tories working to return us to feudalism – it’s not just the NHS that’s under threat.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Great work, great photos, Andy. Dire situation.
Thanks, Dejanka. I know how much the NHS means to you, and me, and to millions of other people. Everyone who has had their life saved or been looked after by the NHS should be taking time to campaign for it. Instead, we get negative coverage in the media by those with a vested interest in wrecking the NHS and replacing it with an American model.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I will put this on three activist sites in the UK.
Thank you, George. Much appreciated. There is, yet again, a shortage of people prepared to even slightly inconvenience themselves to campaign for the NHS, in large part,I think, because, as on so many other topics, the mainstream media is failing to engage in serious and important journalism.
They want to ruin the NHS to force people to buy private insurance at sky high rates.
Yes, like the US, I believe, Thomas. In the UK the NHS costs somewhere between 8 and 10 percent of GDP. In the US it’s 16 percent. That’s a lot of money for corporate scumbags to make out of the most precious commodity on earth – people’s health.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, in Australia we have a Tory government, sorry I mean junta that is bent on following the path set by David Cameron.
Thanks, Willy. Unfortunately one of the many malignant aspects of our globalised world is how the greedy pick up ideas from each other and then implement them. And many of our woes, of course, come directly from our leaders copying what they see in America.
Meg Fenwick Pomfret wrote:
20 years ago my daughter was on a ventilator, yesterday she ran the Mexico Spartan Race. The NHS saved her life, and we didn’t pay for any of it. The entire cost was spread around everyone, and that is what ought to happen in a civilised place.
Thanks, Meg. Perfectly put. The NHS is a national insurance policy that works. But now those bent on destroying it are encouraging those with more money not to want to pay taxes for services that are also used by the poorer members of society, and also to regard themselves as deserving of preferential treatment – the “because you’re worth it” sense of entitlement that I find particularly despicable in the world today. I was particularly disappointed that, almost immediately after her Olympic triumph, Jessica Ennis started prominently advertising private healthcare insurance, at a time when her influence was at its greatest. I find that kind of behaviour completely unacceptable.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Yes, Andy, if we don’t fight to save our precious NHS we will end up like American health care system when your health will depend on how much is your insurance is worth. Just read this story about spine surgeon from the well known USA clinic. Imagine this – “Duntsch acknowledged that omission in an interview. “Here’s what happened, and this is a rookie mistake,” he said. “I did not use neuro-monitoring.” He added that it was not then covered by insurance.
Summers, 43, has returned to Memphis, and remains a quadriplegic. His new lawyer said last month that he will file suit against Baylor within 60 days.” He left his patient paralysed!!!
Thanks, Dejanka. It chills me to think of doctors thinking about the money before they think about the care, when the NHS works so well as an insurance policy for everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances. This was true when my son was born prematurely, and it remains true of the blood experts at Guy’s (and throughout the hospitals of south east London), who look after me now. No one’s losing out, but if greed takes over it will all be about reducing as many services as possible.
Carol Brown wrote:
Andy, have you seen this?
“Jeremy Hunt’s ‘hospital closure’ clause prompts cross-party revolt”
That’s great news, Carol. I hadn’t seen it. Some good comments from MPs – Tory, Labour and Lib Dem:
Nick de Bois, Tory MP for Enfield North, who fought a lengthy battle for his local hospital, said he would not be backing the government: “My constituents have seen first hand the flawed, unrepresentative consultations on the future of Chase Farm hospital … I have no intention of voting for a clause that reduces further the voice of patients and residents.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “It is arrogance in the extreme for Jeremy Hunt to ask parliament to give him powers that the high court refused. No hospital in England is safe from this power grab, which would allow money-driven hospital closures to be imposed on any community. With so many hospitals in financial difficulty, this move will send a chill through every community in the country.”
[Paul] Burstow [the Lib Dem former health minister who tabled the amenfdment to Clause 119 that will be voted on on Tuesday] said that if a hospital was failing badly, ministers should have a “rapid way of assessing the options and fixing the problem”. While he accepted that services provided by one hospital were part of a web that linked them to others nearby, ” the changes bring hospitals that are not failing into this rapid process”. “It is vital that clinicians and the public are fully involved, and that is what my amendment is trying to fix.”
Carol Brown wrote:
I know virtually nothing of Nick de Bois, but he has stood up for his local hospital from what I can make out.
Yes, he has, Carol. He has a majority of just 1,692 so he needs to be aware of what his constituents think, but that may be too cynical. Chase Farm’s A&E closed in December, increasing pressure enormously on nearby A&Es. De Bois said, “I have always said the downgrade was the wrong decision, because the demands of the local population would lead to problems at other A&Es”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2560270/Hospital-declares-internal-emergency-turns-away-ambulances-swamped-following-A-E-closure.html
Carol Brown wrote:
Thanks for finding that. Like you, I wondered if I was being too cynical- but regardless, he should vote with us-.I hope!
Yes, and the thing is, Carol, that any MP defending a small majority – although obviously Tories most of all – need to defend their local hospital if it could possibly be under threat, or they will be punished at the ballot box. It’s a good basis for campaigning in 2015, when, I fervently hope, the Tories will be punished for their cruelty and greed over the last four years.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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