‘A SLAP in the face for Hunt’ is how Unite the union described the victory of the Lewisham Hospital campaigners in the High Court on Wednesday.
‘Today’s High Court ruling quashing Jeremy Hunt’s decision to close A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital is a victory for common sense and NHS campaigners up and the country,’ said Unite the Union, who supported the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign.
The judge ruled that Secretary of State for Health, Hunt, had exceeded his powers in trying to reduce services at the hospital.
The union said that Jeremy Hunt must now accept the decision of the judiciary, medical professionals and the local community and let this hospital thrive.
Unite added that in failing to gain the support of local GP commissioners – one of the government’s own essential criteria for hospital department closures – Hunt had failed his own test and must now accept defeat.
Hunt however, has made it clear in responding to the ruling that the government would be appealing the decision.
Steve Turner, Unite executive director of policy, said: ‘The decision to cut services at Lewisham hospital was idiotic from the outset.
‘But Jeremy Hunt chose his ideology over medical and community sense which is why he has been slapped down by the court today.
‘The judge today has exposed the government as NHS vandals, with a health secretary prepared to flout its own rules to destroy a successful hospital.
‘Jeremy Hunt has been told loudly and clearly – you acted unlawfully and outside your powers.
‘He was told this long ago but would not listen. It is a testament to the medical professionals and the people of Lewisham that they fought the health secretary all the way to save their services.
‘He must now accept this ruling and set aside any notion that he will come back to court determined to destroy Lewisham hospital.
‘If there are concerns in the south London cluster of hospitals, then these need to be addressed by tackling the appalling PFI debts crippling these services.
‘Downgrading Lewisham hospital is not the answer. The answer is to address the handcuff contracts choking the life out of the NHS.’
Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the BMA Council, the doctors’ union, said: ‘The reconfiguration of NHS services is often controversial. Any decision taken must be based on sound clinical evidence that ensures high quality patient care and safety is maintained.
‘It is deeply worrying in the case of Lewisham hospital that the High Court has found that the Health Secretary breached his statutory powers when making the decision to downgrade the emergency care department and maternity units at the hospital.
‘Doctors, healthcare staff and patients were concerned that the consultation period was too short and that local people needed more time to put their views across. It is vital that changes to services have the confidence of the local community and the NHS staff who work there.
‘There must be an urgent review into the events that led to this situation to ensure that lessons are learned for the future.’
Speaking outside the High Court prior to the happy outcome, campaigner Polly Wicks said: ‘As the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital has gone on, what we have realised is that these closures and cuts are part of a national initiative by the government to actually destroy the National Health Service (NHS).
‘So justice for Lewisham Hospital is really important, on a local level and on a personal level, but actually, this is about a wider concern that I have about the NHS and about everybody’s rights to health services.’
Asked whether the unions could do more to defend the NHS, Wicks said: ‘I was at the People’s Commission last month, and Unite were there, and Len McCluskey spoke at length actually about the response that we need to have to the goverment measures that are taking place at the moment.
‘He was quite clear I thought then, that actually what we need is an alternative to the way that things are running at the moment.
‘There was a very widespread call for a general strike at that meeting, and a lot of support for a general strike, and in fact it was an admission by the unions that actually, “Where have they been?”
‘And, “Where have they been?”’ she reiterated.
Wicks continued: ‘That Commission showed that the Community is full square behind the fight to save our public services and actually the ones that aren’t there are the leaders of the unions, strangely enough.
‘You have to bear in mind that the Labour Party has to take responsibility for introducing the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) in the first place, and this particular struggle at Lewisham was all brought about by problems with PFI, and the Labour Party haven’t got to grips yet with what to do about these ridiculous policies which the Labour Party introduced.’
Nile Wicks, her son at university, said: ‘I think the idea of closing Lewisham Hospital down and then trying to move everyone to a different hospital, is a mistake.
‘The idea that there is no accident & emergency for several miles for hundreds of thousands of people is a really bad idea.’
Polly Wicks added: ‘In Lewisham, this government wants to close a hospital, two fire stations, and the police station.
‘If you dial 999 in Lewisham who is going answer, where are you go?
‘I think the whole social system is in a desperate situation. The system is broken and we have to formulate a new way.’
While awaiting the decision, Emily Bishop from The Volunteer Drummers from the London 2012 Opening Ceremony said: ‘I was one of the volunteer performers in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and one of the things that was most important to us about the opening ceremony was that it took the opportunity to celebrate the NHS.
‘When you think that all the NHS nurses that were dancing in that wonderful sequence were also continuing to do their jobs in the NHS on top of that, you can imagine the amount of work that it took.
‘To us that is the legacy, that is what makes this country great. It’s not the royal family, it’s the NHS.
‘What is definitely important to remember is that this government doesn’t speak for us.’
Barbara Janiszewska said, ‘I want to find out the results of all our hard work, and the judge sees sense and we are going to have our A&E.
‘It’s not just Lewisham A&E, it’s other A&Es and the NHS that is under attack. And it is a fine institution.
‘We need strikes in this country, we need action. We need people to start getting together and start fighting against this government. Absolutely, we should bring them down, another 5th of November.’
GMB’s Andy Prendergast, Senior Organiser for public services, said: ‘Today is a great day for democracy. The government was elected on a pledge to protect the NHS, and yet, since taking power, we’ve seen it try to force through changes that would leave the people of south east London with a second-rate service.
‘Today’s decision is one that will save lives and GMB calls on the Secretary of State to recognise his mistakes and to work with GMB and the local community to protect the NHS service moving forward.’
Hunt’s department expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying: ‘This judgment applies to one aspect of a package of changes which we believe are in the best long-term interests of patients and the public across south east London.
‘We expect to continue other elements of that package of changes, including the dissolution of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, planned for October.’