LEWISHAM reverberated, last Saturday to a 15,000 strong demonstration of opposition to the closure of the Accident and Emergency, and Maternity Services at Lewisham Hospital.
Nurses, doctors, other workers, community groups and thousands and thousands of local residents, including whole families, marched, taking more than an hour to move half a mile from the roundabout to the hospital gates.
Motorists and passers-by honked and cheered the column of marchers in a show of strength that made clear to the Hospital Trust chiefs that they had better think again.
The march was organised by Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, who pointed out that there would be only one A&E for 750,000 people and that critical care, the children’s ward, and the maternity services were under threat.
Local trade union branches from Unison, NUT, NUJ, GMB and the BMA peppered the huge demonstration, with pride of place going to the FBU Fire Brigades banner.
Marchers were furious to also learn that four fire stations in the region would be closed if the Fire Authority’s plans were implemented.
The banner of the South East London Council of Action calling for occupations against all closures received wide interest.
Sixty per cent of the hospital is to be sold to raise £17 million towards a debt which arose elsewhere in the Borough
The threatened closure of Lewisham’s A&E and potentially its maternity unit as well, was caused by the financial collapse of neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust (SLHC), which in July became the first NHS facilities to be put into administration, after incurring debts of £150m over three years.
The cuts form part of a package of proposals to decimate hospital services across South East London.
A government appointed Trust Special Administrator, warned that the scale of the problems at SLHC meant neighbouring trusts would have to sacrifice services, including Lewisham, despite Lewisham having met its performance and financial targets, and its A&E having been reopened after a multi-million pound refit only six months ago
The marchers were in no mood for compromise and many were astounded when they were led around the back of Lewisham Hospital to a park for a rally.
Some broke away to stand at the front of the hospital. The original plan had been for thousands of residents to surround the hospital to signify that they would not allow it to close.
The lack of trade union banners was also remarked, particularly the absence of the Unite banners, a leading union in the public services.
Unison branch secretary at Lewisham Conroy Lawrence said he was ‘overwhelmed by the response of the local community’ and marchers who in the incessant rain had ‘inspired the staff at the hospital.
He said: ‘This campaign has the full support of the medical, nursing and professional staff,’ and pledged UNISON along with other unions at the hospital will be ‘redoubling our efforts to defend Lewisham’s vital A&E from closure’.
Kate Glaspool whose children had made their own banner and were bandaged up as casualty patients, said: ‘I had one child at Lewisham Hospital and I was delivered by the same midwife at home for the others.
‘I have been to the A&E four times with my family and I don’t want to travel miles in an emergency.
‘It’s shocking that the authorities can even think about closing A&E and Maternity services in an area with such a dense population, hiving people off to another patch.
‘We have to take a stand now because once it is gone you will never get it back.’
Barbara Gellhorn, also shepherding the lively band, said: ‘I’ve come here because we need our Hospital. We all use it all the time.
‘The hospital is working well, and it’s frightening to think that A&E will close. It will just create a problem somewhere else. GPs are trained to be doctors, not administrators and they are already working under enough pressure.’
Sean Burnett, a steward on the march said: ‘ I am not a hospital worker, but I was born in Lewisham Hospital and my children were also born in Lewisham Hospital. I believe it’s right to be a steward, because I feel it is a personal attack on myself and my family.
‘I am also really concerned about the attacks that have been made on the youth. All the youth centres are being closed down. Something more really has to be done.’
Damien Cooper who had come from Bromley to be on the march said: ‘Although Lewisham Hospital is not my local Hospital, I have lived in SE London all my life. Health care is a basic human right regardless of whether you live in an affluent area or a poor part of the city.’
Bala, a local resident said: ‘I think to close this hospital is diabolical. The document that the Trust heads and Mathew Kershaw have produced is a lot of nonsense and we are going to take it apart.
‘It’s a lot of hype and is quite dishonest. He said that 80 per cent of the hospital will continue and that is clearly not the case.’
Phil Lewis, an NHS accountant said: ‘I have come to protest at the closure of the A&E because we need a service that is funded by taxation not the closure of local services.
‘Central government funding is necessary, and this catastrophic situation is the result of the PFI which is just ridiculous.
‘I am also concerned by the merger of Maudsley, Kings, Guys and St Thomas Hospitals because it also involves a lot of private interests.’
School student Leon Josiah said: ‘If you get hit by a car there would be no hospital to help you and they would have to go so far that people will die for lack of blood.’
Furious to hear of the closure of fire stations as well as the hospital Maureen Mullings said: ‘We have to stop these cuts. There will be tragedies. Cameron has to go. He is killing the country and is detrimental to people’s lives.’
Stewarding the march, Mr McLellan said: ‘I have had two operations at this hospital and the service is better than a 5-star hotel.’
Earl Augustin another steward said. ‘The closures planned at this hospital are an absolute disgrace and it will be a calamity for the borough, for families and for the kids.
‘We will bloody well occupy this hospital to keep it open!’
Save Lewisham Hospital (SLH) campaign stated: ‘The recommendation to close Lewisham A&E is part of an ideological assault on the NHS. . .to make cuts and close local competitors . . . making South London’s services more attractive to private healthcare.
‘Although some NHS Trusts have expressed interest in running South London’s services, so have many private companies.
‘The tendering process will be overseen by Jeremy Hunt, not the administrator. It is likely to be focussed on cost and servicing the debt, rather than quality.
SLH added: ‘Private health companies are at an advantage when they compete on cost, because they don’t bear the costs of A&Es, intensive care, or training medical professionals.
‘Do not be fooled into thinking any of our A&Es have to close for the sake of patients, it is being done to attack our NHS.
‘Lewisham Healthcare runs a successful hospital, which could die a slow death if the administrator’s plans are taken up.
‘South London Healthcare has inherited immense debts caused by political mismanagement.
Unaffordable bank loans were taken out at the same time that rules were introduced to ban the NHS distributing money from profitable areas to those that were in need.
‘So, despite excellent rates of infection and low mortality, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Mary’s, Sidcup, Princess Royal, Farnborough and Orpington Hospital were deemed failures.
‘The NHS is now structured so that individual trusts cannot receive surplus money from other areas, but when it comes to savage cuts, the opposite applies.
‘The government is using semantic arguments about why £4billion pounds of NHS cash reserves cannot be used and why Lewisham A&E should close.’