Lewisham Residents Rally to Save Hospital from Tory Butchers


Please sign the petition to save Lewisham’s A&E and maternity services and send it on to your friends and family!

Residents of the London Borough of Lewisham turned up in force for a public meeting yesterday evening in Lewisham Hospital, to show their opposition to the plans, announced last week, to close the hospital’s A&E (Accident and Emergency) Department and to cut maternity services and other clinical functions. Although Lewisham NHS Trust is financially healthy, a special administrator appointed by the government is making Lewisham pay for the problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which was declared bankrupt in summer, largely as a result of horrendous PFI contracts.

The South London Healthcare Trust runs — or ran — Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, Princess Royal University Hospital in Orpington and Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, and under the special administrator’s proposals, it will be broken up, with Lewisham downgraded through no fault of its own trust, and just one A&E Department — in Woolwich — serving the 750,000 inhabitants of the three boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley.

The situation could hardly be more urgent. If the proposals put forward by the special administrator, Matthew Kershaw, are not defeated by pressure from NHS professionals, lawyers, activists and the residents of Lewisham within the next five weeks (by December 13), the Tories’ new NHS butcher, the sleaze-drenched slimeball Jeremy Hunt (who took over from Andrew Lansley, the discredited architect of the NHS privatisation bill that was approved by Parliament in March this year), will approve the plans in the new year, and Lewisham’s slow death will begin.

The A&E Department – which, ironically, has just received a £12 million makeover — will be downgraded to an urgent care centre, meaning that only minor complaints can be treated. Anything more serious will require patients to travel to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, and maternity services will also be restricted to those that do not involve any complications. With emergency services sent elsewhere, the hospital as a whole will, if the plans go ahead, soon be nothing more than a husk, a shadow of its former self, particularly if Kershaw’s plans to sell off half the hospital’s buildings are also implemented.

Yesterday evening, hundreds of Lewisham residents packed into the Lessoff Auditorium in Lewisham Hospital, which was so full that seats and a video were set up in the foyer. Hundreds more crowded into an entirely separate building, the Calabash Centre, a few hundred years from the hospital, where another video link was established. Speakers travelled from one event to the other, and the atmosphere was electric.

Reporting on Thursday’s meeting, the News Shopper, the local newspaper, which joined the South London Press in endorsing the campaign to save Lewisham’s A&E and maternity services in a front-page article this week, stated that Steve Bullock, Lewisham’s Mayor, promised that the council “will throw its full weight behind the campaign to stop it.”

Steve Bullock said, “This is complete nonsense and I am going to deploy the recourses of the council in every possible way to put a stop to it. I know how difficult public services are at the moment but to propose to rip the heart out of a hospital that is so important to a quarter of a million of people as Lewisham is — I find it staggering.”

The Mayor was joined by Heidi Alexander MP, who initiated an important petition which has already secured over 9,750 signatures, and which I urge everyone everywhere who cares about the NHS to sign, and Jim Dowd MP, (and I note also that Heidi Alexander managed to get the Daily Mail to allow her to write an article this week) but the evening’s real emotion and energy came from doctors and nurses in the NHS, and from local residents.

One of the most powerful moments, for me, came when an audience member asked if there was anyone present who had been consulted by Matthew Kershaw before he issued his report. Dr. John Miell, a consultant physician and endocrinologist, with 30 years’ experience, was invited to the stage to explain, as he put it so memorably, that he was part of the consultation process “if you regard turning up and being ignored as consultation.” Pointing out that he was speaking in an independent capacity, and that he was possibly endangering his job, Dr. Miell also stated bluntly that the changes proposed by Matthew Kershaw were “entirely financially driven,” and had nothing to do with improving services or setting in motion changes that would not end up affecting services adversely.

This was a theme repeated by Louise Irvine, the Deptford-based GP who set up yesterday’s meeting, and who has been a major driver in the campaigns to resist the NHS privatisation bill, and now these proposals to kill off Lewisham Hospital. She also stated that the proposals were “not driven by clinical needs,” telling the audience, “It’s financial.”

Also significant were the contributions of Dan, a young nurse who has been working in A&E for the last nine months. He explained how much he loves his job, and how terrible it would be to have to turn away anyone who was seriously ill. As he put it, “To have to say to someone, ‘you’re too ill’ — that disgusts me.”

Also powerful were the comments made by Frankie Turner, a former midwife at Lewisham Hospital, who retired in May this year. She pointed out, as the News Shopper reported it, that “there simply is not room at other hospitals for mums-to-be if the maternity services were to close.”

As she described it, “There were 4,400 births in Lewisham Hospital last year. If you close our maternity services, where will they go? Daily I had to phone around hospitals like the Queen Elizabeth and Kings, and they said, ‘no we can’t take anybody.’ There were times when I was phoning north of the river to get one patient taken. There’s no room in other hospitals.”

The same is true of A&E, of course, as Queen Elizabeth — which already takes in patients from Sidcup, since the closure of Queen Mary’s A&E Department in 2010 — regularly struggles to cope, and the significance of A&E to the viability of Lewisham Hospital as a whole was emphasised by Dr. John Miell, who explained that, on average, 40 people who turn up at A&E every day are admitted to the hospital — that’s 40 people requiring clinical care every day, 280 a week and over a thousand a month, helping to explain why, without an A&E  Department, Lewisham as a proper hospital will cease to exist.

What is also of huge concern is the difficulty of getting to Woolwich, and especially to the remote location of Queen Elizabeth Hospital (see the map here). There are very poor public transport links from Lewisham, and the hospital is five miles away, as the crow flies, from those in the west of Lewisham — Brockley and New Cross, for example. Absurdly, the administrator referred to a Transport for London website to come up with the ridiculous claim that the journey time of the average Lewisham resident travelling to Woolwich instead of Lewisham High Street will only be 14 minutes longer than it is at present. At night, in a speeding sports car, this might be possible, but on public transport at rush hour it could literally take several hours to get from door to door for many Lewisham residents. Not for nothing did I tell the South London Press last week, “A&E is the front line of hospital services. It is extremely distressing to think that, if something terrible happens to someone in Brockley, they will have to be taken through all the traffic to Woolwich. I can see someone dying if this goes ahead.”

Also speaking at the meeting was Eve Turner, of Ealing TUC, who brought a message of solidarity from Save Our Hospitals, a campaigning group in west London, where four out of nine A&E Departments face closure — at Ealing, Charing Cross (in Hammersmith), Hammersmith and Central Middlesex — and where the campaign recently got 5,000 people out on the streets to protest about the plans. Eve explained how the backing of local politicians has been hugely important in west London, in terms of publicity, including printing leaflets and distributing them to every household, and advertising on billboards and other sites, and this is something we need to make sure that Steve Bullock hears loudly and clearly, and as swiftly as possible. 

See below for a video, made by a supporter of the campaign, who filmed BBC London’s report on the meeting last night:

The next big events in the campaign involve meetings being undertaken across south London by Matthew Kershaw, to try and sell his wretched plans. The full list can be found here and here, but the most important dates for now are: Tuesday November 13, from 2-4 pm, at the West Greenwich Community Centre, 141 Greenwich High Road, London SE10 8JA (see here), and Friday November 16, from 10 am to noon, at Goldsmiths College in New Cross (see here). Full details are also on the poster below. Click on it to enlarge it.

If you can attend, please do, and tell Matthew Kershaw that we will not sit back and let him sign a death sentence for our hospital — and very probably for some seriously ill patients as well. Tell him that Lewisham, with 200,000 to 250,000 inhabitants, needs its own fully-functioning A&E Department, as does every London borough, and that this requirement needs to be the starting point for discussions, and not spurious claims that there is no money, when the NHS has been making savings, and the government can find outrageous amounts of money for other projects — just not apparently for the NHS.

Tell Matthew Kershaw that we know that the destruction of the NHS — of which the decapitation of Lewisham Hospital is just a start — is part of a malignant ideology being pushed aggressively by this wretched government, despite promises by David Cameron that the NHS would be safe with him, and tell him that all those who fought to create the NHS would be ashamed of him for going along with it.

There is also a major protest planned for the afternoon of Saturday November 24, and I urge everyone who can get to Lewisham on that date to do so. The protest begins at Loampit Vale, on the grassy knoll by the big roundabout, and the protestors — who hope to exceed Ealing’s 5,000! — will march to Lewisham Hospital and join hands to surround it.

For further information, please see the Save Lewisham A&E campaign, and the Lewisham Keep Our NHS Public campaign. You may also find this interview with Iain Wilson of Save Lewisham A&E useful.

And finally, please respond to the special administrator’s plans. You have until December 13 to let him know what you think here via the “Online consultation response form.” If you need any help filling in the form, Save Lewisham A&E have created a very useful “How to respond” page here.

Most of all, though, please spread the word. Tell everyone you know, by all means available — in person, on the phone, by email, through social networks. Don’t feel despondent, and don’t give up.

This is a national issue, as the Tories try to kill the NHS, and we need to create as wide a coalition as possible to defend our health service, but it also a local issue, and, as is clear from the 10,000 people who have signed the petition to date after just one week, and as is clear from the crowds last night, is one that can bring the people of Lewisham together like no campaign I have seen before.

Those of us campaigning for the NHS have always said that attacking the NHS would be the Tories’ downfall. Let’s make sure it is. But let’s not wait until 2015 to prove that at the ballot box! Fight to save Lewisham Hospital, and do it now!

Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    The petition has nearly reached 10,000 signatures. It’s now on 9,836, and the target has just been raised to 15,000! Excellent news!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the petition, btw, and it’s now on 9,880 signatures: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    YES!!!!! 10,003 signatures! Keep those signatures coming …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    thanks, Andy….shared it again, as well as the petition x

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ruth. Good news this morning, as the petition has reached 10,000 signatures. However, we need Steve Bullock to be true to his word and put the council’s resources behind the campaign IMMEDIATELY, with a leaflet to be distributed to all households in the borough of Lewisham. The 30,000 that were printed by the campaigners were all taken at the meeting, and I easily got rid of the small handful I took, around shops in Brockley yesterday afternoon.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone who’s been liking and sharing this. It has 104 likes right now, and only had about 20 this morning. I think it has developed a life of its own. Please don’t forget the petition, currently on 10,195 signatures: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lewisham-hospital/

  7. Jonny Wrecked says...

    I honestly believe this is a cabal of slick con men taking this country apart brick by brick and selling it off to line their already bloated pockets. Its downright theft is what is going on, these people have leapt on an opportunity like hyenas on a carcass and are making a killing without giving a flying fudge about you or I. As a matter of fact I believe that they are a bunch of sado masochistic fascists who like to see the peasants grovel through the turrets of their fucking Oxfordshire castles..

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Jonny, and the sad thing is that they’re seeing what they can get away with – and getting away with most of it because the people who care aren’t able to mobilise the numbers required to see them off. Depressingly, that’s what 30 years of depoliticising the population has achieved. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that, as life inevitably gets more difficult, and these clowns are unable to offer any more diversions, having blown it all on the Olympics, people will wake up in greater numbers. The fight for the NHS in Lewisham will provide some sort of barometer if people pick up on what’s happening as they’ve been doing over the last 12 days …

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote, in response to 5, above:

    I agree….he’s like a tedious dead weight, necessary but lumbering. We need decisive action now…he’s a bureaucrat through and through…x

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Waiting to hear back from those who’ve been organising the campaign so far to find out what steps need to be taken to get Bullock to heavily promote the campaign and to do it NOW. I will harangue him if necessary, and encourage others to do so, and to make sure that he knows that WE WILL NOT FORGIVE HIM if he doesn’t show that he tried his utmost. Open the council’s wallet, Mr. Mayor, and do it immediately!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    10,734 now for the petition. Keep on publicising, please!

  12. Save Lewisham Hospital A&E: Photos of the Massive Protest on November 24, 2012 | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation says...

    […] seen in living memory to protest about the disgraceful plans, announced less than a month ago, to close Lewisham’s A&E Department, to downgrade maternity services, and to cut other acute frontline services, sending emergency […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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