Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.
The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.
Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, another high-profile event took place in the campaign to “Save Lewisham Hospital” from destruction by senior NHS managers and the government, with an event entitled, “Born in Lewisham,” in which campaigners showed their support for the hospital with a gathering outside the entrance on Lewisham High Street, and a rally afterwards in Ladywell Fields, with speakers, music and stalls.
The particular focus of the event was on people born in Lewisham Hospital, who were encouraged to show their support for the hospital by having their photos taken for a photo gallery (forthcoming on the Save Lewisham Hospital website) and carrying home-made placards or wearing T-shirts with personalised messages. Some of those photos are featured in this photo set, and the previous one which I posted on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
Born in Lewisham: The Protest to Save Lewisham Hospital, March 16, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On March 16, 2013, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign organised a protest and publicity event, entitled, “Born in Lewisham,” outside the endangered hospital — serving a population of 270,000 people — on Lewisham High Street.
The campaign was established in October 2012, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley), recommended that Lewisham Hospital — which is not part of the SLHT and has no financial problems — should merge with one of the SLHT’s hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and should have its A&E Department closed and other frontline services — including maternity — severely downgraded. In Lewisham, this would mean tens of thousands of emergencies having to be dealt with elsewhere, as well as 90 percent of Lewisham’s mothers having to give birth outside the borough. Read the rest of this entry »
Please support the “Born in Lewisham Hospital” event on Saturday March 16, and, if you can, contribute to Lewisham Council’s Legal Challenge Fund to pay for the Judicial Review that has just been launched, to prove that the plans to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department and severely downgrade other services is illegal!
The struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from destruction continues, with undiminished energy, I’m glad to report. I have been a resident of Lewisham, in south east London, for the last 15 years, and I am proud of the creativity, commitment and clear-sighted indignation of my fellow residents campaigning against the wretched proposals to disembowel the hospital, conceived of, proposed and endorsed by both senior NHS officials and the government.
To recap briefly (although my archive of articles is here, and I also recommend the Save Lewisham Hospital website and Facebook page), at the end of October Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust (the South London Healthcare Trust, covering the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) proposed that King’s (in Camberwell) should take over one of the SLHT’s hospitals, while another, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, on a remote, blasted heath in Woolwich, should merge with Lewisham.
Kershaw was the first administrator appointed under specific “unsustainable providers” legislation, of which there are many critics (myself included), who see that trusts may end up in debt for all kinds of reasons, including, as in the case of the SLHT) monstrous PFI deals that ought to have been illegal. However, there was at least a certain logic at work with regard to the proposals for King’s to take over one hospital, and for Lewisham to merge with Queen Elizabeth. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday’s news was expected, but it still hit hard. Last June, the Joint Committee of North West London Primary Care Trusts proposed the closure of four of the nine A&E Departments at hospitals in north west London, and on Tuesday, despite vigorous campaigns throughout the area against the proposals, the committee confirmed that, as the Evening Standard put it, “Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals will lose their A&Es permanently while Charing Cross and Ealing will be left with a downgraded urgent care centres which will not accept emergency patients.”
This really is an alarming development, as it will leave three of the eight boroughs in north west London — containing about three-quarters of a million people — without a major hospital, out of the 1.9 million people in the whole of north west London. In addition, removing hospitals’ ability to deal with emergencies essentially sounds the death knell for those hospitals, as a huge range of hospital services rely upon emergency admissions and the ability to deal with emergencies. In Lewisham, for example, where similar cuts have been approved, at least 90 percent of the mothers in the entire borough (4,400 a year) will no longer be able to give birth in Lewisham itself, despite it having the same population as Brighton, Hull or Newcastle.
Following the announcement about the north west London hospitals, Andy Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith and the secretary of Save Our Hospitals Hammersmith and Fulham, said, “This is the biggest hospital closure programme in the history of the NHS. It will put lives at risk across West London and will give a second class health service to 2 million people.” He also stated, “There will be no A&E in the London boroughs of Hammersmith, Ealing or Brent, which together have a population the size of Leeds.” Read the rest of this entry »
Defend London’s NHS: A Week of Action, a set on Flickr.
Last week, from February 9 to 16, campaigners across London — in Lewisham, in Hammersmith, in Ealing, in Archway and in Kingston — who are fighting to save essential frontline services from the government (which is committed to the destruction of the NHS), and from senior NHS management (who have forgotten what the NHS is for), came together as ”Defend London’s NHS,” an unprecedented coalition of MPs, unions, campaigners, patients, doctors and other health workers.
In the inaugural week of action, there were events on Saturday February 9 outside Ealing Hospital and Central Middlesex Hospital (between Brent and Ealing), which are two of the four A&E Departments (out of nine in total) that face the axe in north west London, along with the two hospitals in Hammersmith — Charing Cross and Hammersmith itself, and there were also protests and events throughout the week, culminating in a rally in Lewisham on Friday (see my photos here), and rallies in Hammersmith and Kingston on Saturday.
The Parliamentary launch of “Defend London’s NHS”
However, the week of action’s central event took place on Monday February 11, when “Defend London’s NHS” was launched in the House of Commons. At this event, the speakers, who included the doctors Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Onkar Sahota, the chair of the Ealing Save Our Hospitals campaign, and two MPs, Andy Slaughter and Heidi Alexander, were united in their recognition that the NHS currently faces an unparalleled threat, greater than at any other time in its 65-year history. Read the rest of this entry »
Save Lewisham Hospital Rally, February 15, 2013, a set on Flickr.
In Lewisham, in south east London, Save Lewisham Hospital campaigners, trade union representatives and concerned residents of the London Borough of Lewisham attended a rally at the war memorial opposite Lewisham Hospital, on Lewisham High Street, at 1pm on Thursday February 15, to tell the government and senior NHS management that they — we — will continue to campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from the plans to severely downgrade its services and to sell off 60 percent of its buildings, which were approved two weeks ago by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The proposals were put forward in October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator charged with finding solutions to the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which was placed in administration in the summer. Under those plans, Lewisham’s A&E Department will close, replaced by an Urgent Care Unit, which cannot deal with emergencies, and this will have a severe impact on the hospital’s ability to survive. There will no longer be an intensive care unit, other acute services will be shut, and, according to Hunt, just 10 percent of the 4,400 Lewisham mothers who give birth in Lewisham every year will be able to do so in future, as any birth that carries a risk of complications will have to take place elsewhere. Read the rest of this entry »
In the end, then, the massive grassroots struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from government-backed destruction on the advice of the NHS’s own senior officials — which led to two massive demos, in November, and last weekend (see here and here) — proved not to be an end in itself, but just the beginning of a larger battle.
Yesterday, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, broadly approved the proposals to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department, replacing it with an “urgent care centre,” unable to deal with emergencies, and have other frontline services, including its maternity services, severely downgraded. The proposals were put forward just three months ago by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed last summer by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley to deal with the bankrupt South London Healthcare Trust, and his recommendations regarding Lewisham came as a shock and surprise to the 250,000 residents of the borough.
Their — our — surprise was understandable. After all, Kershaw had been appointed to make recommendations regarding the fate of the South London Healthcare Trust, based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, and not Lewisham, which is an independent trust. In addition, the SLHT was crippled by PFI debt — which, incidentally, is so monstrously disproportionate that it should have been declared illegal — whereas Lewisham was solvent, but this apparently made no difference to the would-be butchers of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »
So now we wait.
On Saturday, as this second set of my photos shows — following on from the first set here — around 25,000 people marched through Lewisham, in south east London, to a rally in Mountsfield Park in Catford, to deliver a powerful rebuke to senior NHS officials, and to the government.
In the first set, I focused on the initial gathering in the centre of Lewisham, and in this second set I photographed the march through the streets, past shoppers and car drivers earnestly honking their horns in support, past Lewisham Hospital, and on to Mountsfield Park in Catford, where there were speakers including Louise Irvine, a Deptford GP and the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Heidi Alexander MP, who introduced a successful petition to save Lewisham Hospital, which now has over 30,000 signatures.
There was also music, a number of food stalls and a giant petition, and it felt, just for a few hours, as though a velvet revolution was beginning. It is certainly true that only huge numbers — like the numbers seen on Saturday — can genuinely alarm those in power, but it remains to be seen, of course, if such numbers can be mobilised again, not just for Lewisham, but across London, and throughout England as a whole, as the long years of this wretched coalition government — arrogant and cruel, to an extent that is almost beyond belief, and without a genuine mandate — continue to grind away at the very structure of civil society, hurling more and more of the most vulnerable members of society into genuinely alarming poverty, while continuing to destroy Britain economically, and doing nothing for anyone except the rich and the super-rich — the bankers, corporations and individuals who got us into financial difficulties in the first place, and who continue to avoid paying taxes on a colossal scale. Read the rest of this entry »
Save Lewisham Hospital: The Huge March on January 26, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On January 26, 2013, in Lewisham, in south east London, I took these photos of an extraordinary demonstration, in which an estimated 25,000 people marched from the centre of Lewisham, past Lewisham Hospital and up George Lane to Mountsfield Park in Catford to save Lewisham Hospital from having its A&E Department closed, and other services severely downgraded, including its maternity services.
It was one of the most exhilarating protests I have ever taken part in, a worthy successor to the one in the driving rain on November 24, when around 15,000 people showed up, providing the first thrilling indication that, in attacking the NHS in Lewisham, the government and the wrecking crew in the NHS’s management had sparked a movement of resistance that was spreading like wildfire throughout the borough and beyond. Yesterday, it felt like a continuation of that initial impulse — that something had been sparked which was finally waking people up to the understanding that, although politicians and bureaucrats wield often considerable power, and generally show disdain for us, in the end we are many and they are few. Read the rest of this entry »
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