On Saturday March 4, 2017, tens of thousands of campaigners marched through central London to defend the NHS from the Tory government, which has been responsible for alarming cuts to NHS funding since first getting back into power in 2010, and which, in 2012’s Health and Social Care Act, facilitated increased privatisation of the NHS that is already undermining the integrity of the health service, as private providers take over more and more services, putting profits before care.
In an article last week promoting the march, I wrote about my involvement in the successful campaign to save Lewisham Hospital in 2012-13, but explained that now, “with the hardest of Brexits being pushed by Theresa May, and being used as a screen to hide anything else that the Tories want hidden, and with May herself revealed — to those who can see beyond the Brexit lies and the endless spinning of the bent right-wing media — as the most dangerous right-wing ideologue in modern British history, it seems reasonable to assume that, with no serious opposition, she will preside over the destruction of the NHS on a scale previously unrealisable, a process which, if not stopped, will actually kill off the NHS, the country’s greatest single institution, which works to save the lives of everyone who needs it, regardless of their income.”
The cuts to the NHS have been so savage that, in the first three quarters of the latest financial year, the deficit was £886 million, and, out of 238 NHS trusts, 135 ended the year in deficit. Read the rest of this entry »
Four years ago, I was involved in a struggle to save Lewisham Hospital, my local hospital in south east London, from destruction by senior NHS managers working closely with the government of David Cameron. It was an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, at one point involving 25,000 Lewisham residents taking to the streets, and, I’m very glad to note, it was ultimately successful.
Four years on, however, the political situation in the country is far worse than we could have imagined back in 2013, and, it is fair to say, the entire NHS is now at risk. Back then, the outrageous cost of a PFI development in Woolwich had led NHS managers to conclude that they could get away with a long-planned attempt to reduce the number of A&E departments in south east London from five to four, with Lewisham being the intended victim.
In overcoming these plans — which involved a successful judicial review — we were, I think, able to demonstrate that it was disgraceful for the government and NHS managers to suggest that 750,000 Londoners should be served by just one A&E, when Lewisham itself, with a population of 270,000, deserves its own fully-functioning hospital, as does every population centre of a quarter of a million people. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference, at which Jeremy Hunt has been causing anger by telling hard-working lower-paid voters that they need to work harder — like the famously exploited Chinese people, for example — rather than get tax credits to top up their government-defended inadequate pay, I posted ‘Tory Bullshit Blues,’ a new video on the YouTube channel of my band The Four Fathers, which I launched last week with a version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer,’ about the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo, played by myself and my fellow guitarist/singer in the band, Richard Clare.
‘Tory Bullshit Blues’ is my defence of socialism over the selfishness and greed that has typified the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher — and it also challenges the racism of UKIP, blaming immigrants, the unemployed and the disabled for the problems caused by the bankers who were responsible for the global economic crash of 2008, but have not been held accountable for their greed and their crimes.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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