Rare Good News for the NHS: Government Accepts Lords Amendment Removing Hospital Closure Clause from Care Bill

Last week there was some rare good news about the NHS, which I’m posting belatedly because I was too busy last week, and also because I want to make sure that my approval is on record. I’m also posting it because, let’s face it, those of us who care about social justice have few victories to cheer about.

The victory in question was the government’s acceptance of an amendment to Clause 119 of the Care BIll — generally known as the “hospital closure clause” — which is designed to prevent neighbouring hospitals to those facing grave financial difficulties from having their services cut without local consultation.

The circumstances in which this would have occurred involved hospitals close to those subjected to the appointment of a special administrator because of severe financial problems — under the Unsustainable Providers Regime that was first launched in south east London in October 2012. In that case, the Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, proposed savagely cutting services at Lewisham Hospital to help pay off the debts of a neighbouring, but otherwise unrelated trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which had hospitals in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS from the “Hospital Closure Clause” in the Care Bill; Write to Your MP and Attend a Parliamentary Meeting on Feb. 27

POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.

Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).

Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.

25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and the Need to Defend the NHS on Radio Free Brighton

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: Sign the Petition to Stop Jeremy Hunt Closing Hospitals at Will + Lewisham Hospital Xmas Single

Please sign the petition to save our hospitals!

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Burning Effigies of Tories and Protesting About Austerity and PFI at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham

David Cameron: "We're all in this together"George Osborne: Stealing from the poor to give to the richTheresa May: "In tough times, everyone has to take their share of the pain"Jeremy Hunt: Selling off our NHS and closing our hospitalsBoris Johnson: Closing our fire stationsGordon Brown: Architect of the PFI catastrophe
Ed Balls: "PFI represents good value for taxpayers' money"David Cameron burnsIain Duncan Smith burnsBurn in Hell, David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove

Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.

On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.

The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.

The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »

Appeal Court Victory for Lewisham Hospital – But Tories Respond with New Legislation to Close Dozens of Hospitals

On Tuesday, the year-long struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from butchers in the government — and in the senior management of the NHS — ended in victory for campaigners, when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, in July, that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans for Lewisham put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator.

Appointed under legislation for dealing with NHS trusts in severe financial difficulties (the Unsustainable Providers Regime), Kershaw had proposed closing A&E and other frontline services and selling off over half of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings and land as part of a package of proposals to address the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which has three hospitals in south east London. The result would have been just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and a disgraceful scenario in which 90 percent of the mothers in Lewisham (a borough with a population of 270,000) would have been unable to give birth in their home borough.

Responding to the news, Tony O’Sullivan, the Director of Services for Children and Young People at Lewisham, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “This is a complete victory.” Referring to ministers and the Special Administrator, O’Sullivan added, “We always said they were acting unlawfully and undemocratically in using an emergency process to bypass meaningful consultation and destroy an excellent hospital.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013

Colourful campaigners outside Lewisham Hospital's A&E DepartmentLouise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignThe Save Lewisham Hospital refuse vanHands off our A&EsVictory for everyoneThe Save Lewisham Hospital march reaches Ladywell Fields
Lewisham: The Fight Goes OnLewisham Victory MarchHelp us keep our hospitalSave Lewisham Hospital: Mayor Bullock speaks

Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.

On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.

At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.

The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: Events to Celebrate the Campaign’s Victory Over Jeremy Hunt

For campaigners in Lewisham, in south east London — and for defenders of the NHS across the country —  it has been a summer of celebration, since a great victory was declared in the High Court on July 31, and I draw your attention to three events taking place over the next few weeks — a victory parade and party, a fundraising night of dancing, and a trip to Manchester to protest outside the Conservative Party Conference.

Details of these events are below, but to provide some background, as I explained at the time of the victory, “Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, including shutting its A&E Department, 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 I also explained:

The judicial reviews were launched when, in January, Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals for Lewisham, which were 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Victory for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign

Justice for Lewisham HospitalSave Lewisham Hospital campaignersA youthful campaigner for Lewisham HospitalHands off my hospital!Victory!A victory for Lewisham Hospital is a victory for everyone
We won!Victory in LewishamYou lose, Mr. Hunt!Brian Fisher GP celebrates Lewisham's victoryLouise Irvine GP celebrates Lewisham's victoryLewisham Hospital: Here to stay!

Victory for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, a set on Flickr.

Here are my photos from yesterday’s celebrations by campaigners for Lewisham Hospital — myself included — outside the High Court, and then outside Lewisham Hospital, following a spectacular victory in the High Court after nine months of campaigning.

As I explained in my brief report yesterday, after I returned from the High Court, Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, including shutting its A&E Department, 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Lewisham Hospital Saved! Judge Rules Jeremy Hunt’s Downgrade Plans Unlawful

We won! Congratulations to the tens of thousands of campaigners who have been fighting to save Lewisham Hospital for the last eight months, since plans to severely downgrade services at the hospital were first announced.

Today in the High Court, Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council, ruled that the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had acted unlawfully when he approved proposals by an NHS Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. The ruling is here.

This was a stunning victory for campaigners — myself included — who have fought the proposals for the last nine months, ever since they were announced at the end of October 2012 by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, based in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which was losing over £1m a week, partly through ruinous PFI deals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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