Some people think that protest is futile, but in Lewisham, in south east London, we know that’s not true. In 2012 and 2013, a grass-roots people’s movement in Lewisham defeated plans by the government — and senior officials in the NHS — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts accumulated by a neighbouring NHS trust. If the plans had gone ahead, the 270,000 people of Lewisham would have had no A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department, and would have had to join 500,000 other people, from two other boroughs, served by one A&E many miles away on a remote heath in Woolwich. In addition, all frontline acute services would have been cut at Lewisham, and, as a result, 90 percent of the Lewisham’s mothers would not have been able to give birth in their home borough.
Although we won a significant victory in Lewisham, the zeal of the government — and of senior NHS managers — for increased privatisation, and for cuts that can only damage the provision of services to those in need continues, and, as with so many facets of the opportunistic “age of austerity” declared by the Tory-led coalition government, mass opposition is in short supply. What we need, at the very least, is regular opportunities to show the government, the banks and the corporations that we are implacably opposed to their corruption and cruelty, and yet we have had only two major protests in the last four years — one in March 2011 (the TUC-led “March for the Alternative“), and another (“A Future That Works“) in October 2012.
In January last year, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign got 25,000 people out on the streets of Lewisham, providing hope and encouragement to campaigners across the country, and on Saturday, thousands of NHS supporters gathered in Red Lion Square in Holborn and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally that was a culmination of a three-week, 300-mile march by around 30 mums (the “Darlo Mums”) and others from Darlington, who recreated the 1936 Jarrow March, as the People’s March for the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »
On August 16, a group of mums in Darlington, in County Durham, set out on a march to the Houses of Parliament, ending this Saturday, September 6, “to build support for the NHS and to join up with amazing NHS campaigners across the country,” as they note on their website.
Their march, the People’s March for the NHS, was inspired by the Jarrow March in 1936, when, in the Depression, 200 people marched from Jarrow, 30 miles north of Darlington, to London to demand action from the government.
The campaign to save the NHS from the lying, Tory-led coalition government, whose leader, David Cameron, promised before the 2010 election that there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, is one that I have been involved in since 2011, when the privatising Health and Social Care Bill was first unveiled. I fought against the passage of the bill in the early months of 2012, and in October 2012 joined the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, which, over the following year, secured unprecedented grass-roots support (see here and here) against government and NHS management plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust. That campaign was ultimately successful, but privatisation continues to invade the NHS, as intended by the government, numerous hospitals face uncertain futures, and further legislation — like the hospital closure clause (Clause 119) of the 2013 Care Bill — have had to be resisted (again, with success). Read the rest of this entry »
Over eight years ago, in March 2006, I began researching and writing about the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there since the prison opened in January 2002. Initially, I spent 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon in the spring of 2006, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, on an almost daily basis, as an independent investigative journalist — for 20 months under President Bush, and, shockingly, for what is now five and a half years under President Obama.
My mission, as it has been since my research first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions.
As I highlight every three months through my quarterly fundraising appeals, I have undertaken the lion’s share of this work as a reader-supported journalist and activist, so if you can support my work please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Nearly eight years ago, I began researching Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, writing about them, and campaigning to get the prison closed. I spent that first 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, to expose the lies told in the “war on terror,” and to push for the prison’s closure — as a full-time independent investigative journalist.
As I prepare to embark on my quarterly fundraising appeal (in which I’m hoping to raise $2500 to support my work for the next three months), please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via Paypal if you can help to support my work, which is largely funded by you, my readers and supporters. Most of the 138 articles I wrote in this period were written without any financial support except your donations.
In January 2010, I began to put together chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that doing so would make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to navigate my work — the 2,120 articles and pages I have published in the last six and a half years.
This 14th list — which began with my annual visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, on the anniversary of its opening in 2002 – marked a renewed focus on Guantánamo, after the men still held embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike that awakened the world’s media to the ongoing injustices of Guantánamo, and put pressure on President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close Guantánamo and to resume releasing prisoners, which he had largely stopped doing three years ago when confronted by opposition in Congress. In the last three years, just ten prisoners have been released, even though 82 of the remaining 162 prisoners were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
Save the NHS and Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, a set on Flickr.
I just wanted to make available a few photos — and a bit of explanatory text — from two of the campaigns that are closest to my heart: the campaign to close Guantánamo (and, specifically, to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison), and the campaign to save the NHS from savage cuts and privatisation at the hands of both the Tory-led coalition government and senior NHS managers who have forgotten what the NHS is for.
The first photo in this set is from the regular weekly vigil outside Parliament for Shaker Aamer, held by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign on most Wednesdays, from noon until 2pm, and the second — of some Close Guantánamo cupcakes, featuring Shaker’s prison number, 239 — is from the recent march and rally for Shaker in Battersea, which I spoke at on Saturday.
Shaker Aamer is one of 84 men who are still held despite being cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force established by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009. These men are still held, however, because of obstruction by Congress, and an unwillingness on the part of President Obama to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »
This is rather last minute, but I hope it will be useful. The nursing campaign group, the 4:1 Campaign, has organised a protest outside the Department of Health (on Whitehall, almost opposite 10 Downing Street), tomorrow lunchtime (Tuesday November 26, 2013), from noon until 2pm, and I am going to go along as one of the speakers.
The “Rally for the NHS” is described on Facebook as a response to “disastrous news about the NHS” in recent weeks, “from the RCN [Royal College of Nursing] revealing the NHS has over 20,000 nursing vacancies, to the Department of Health’s decision to downgrade (effectively close) 100 A&E departments.”
The campaigners add, “We believe those who support the NHS, its staff and patients need to provide an alternative vision for the future of the NHS. That’s why we are going to be outside the Department of Health on the 26th with our own proposals for how to protect and improve the NHS. The rally will last from 12-2 outside the DoH in Whitehall, with speakers and stunts to highlight different aspects of the crisis afflicting the NHS, while giving an opportunity for health workers and patients to give their solutions to the crisis being created in the NHS.” Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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