When he was just an opposition MP and looking for votes, Jeremy Hunt, with David Cameron’s support, campaigned to save his local A&E (the Royal Surrey Hospital) from closure. That was then.
As Health Minister he is closing down hospitals, cutting jobs, selling off and giving away services, and generally “reconfiguring” the Health Service to his heart’s content.
On 31 January, only five days after 25,000 people marched to defend Lewisham Hospital, Hunt announced plans to downgrade state of the art A&E and maternity units, to slash elderly care and acclaimed children’s services, to sell off or demolish parts of the hospital campus, to sell off land. And this was dressed up as a concession to the magnificent community campaign!
Hunt says the 285,000 strong population of Lewisham will still enjoy 75% of its newly refurbished (to the tune of £12 million) A&E. This is pure spin. As Chidi Ejimofo, Lewisham Hospital A&E consultant, pointed out: “An A&E of the type described (by Hunt) is little more than an Urgent Care unit. Patients will still have to be transported to other hospitals because we will no longer have acute provision here.”
Later this year a new Trust will be formed (Lewisham together with three hospitals from the old now bankrupt South London Healthcare Trust). Under these plans services currently provided by Lewisham will be wound down over three years. Patients will be transferred to already over-stretched neighbouring hospitals.
Hunt has allocated just £36 million to get those ready to cope with Lewisham patients.
Dr Louise Irvine, Chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, says “Hunt tells us he has accepted the recommendations on the basis of ‘100 lives per annum saved’ but this is just a snapshot figure of a national assessment, not locally accurate in the context of the model proposed. As a GP, I can state unequivocally that these proposals are going to cost lives.”
Hours after Hunt’s announcement, 400 people converged on the hospital to show their support for the campaign and in solidarity with the hospital workers. The mood was one of anger and, for some, disbelief that Hunt could ignore the strength of local opposition.
Over the coming months we have to make sure the energy and angry determination of the campaign continues to grow and is ready and able to fight on a number of fronts.
Very careful consideration is now being given to legal challenges.
These are not to be dismissed; winning a stay of execution is useful as part of an overall strategy to defend the hospital and proved to be useful in other hospital campaigns such as in Gloucester and Chase Farm.
In the meantime we have to make sure that everyone understands that it is “business as usual” at Lewisham Hospital. Urging patients to choose Lewisham, GPs to refer patients, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) continue to commission services, and health workers to choose to work at Lewisham hospital, are necessary to keep the hospital going. That way it is hard for the service to be closed.
There are many proposals on the table to keep the campaign going.
l A shop front on the high street funded by the council;
l A newspaper outlining the arguments to be distributed across the borough into neighbouring boroughs and around London.
l A conference to bring together hospital campaigns from around the country to share ideas and plan coordinated action in defence of our NHS.
l A pledge for health workers in Lewisham to stay with the hospital and fight to defend its services.
l Taking the campaign to the unions, winning the arguments for solidarity in support of the NHS. To put pressure on Unite and the TUC to call a national demonstration in defence of the NHS.
The workers in the hospital also have to become better organised. Now is the time to look at how a work-in or occupation to keep the hospital could work And if the bulldozers do come onto the hospital campus, how do we organise to stop the demolition?
The cuts to Lewisham Hospital make no sense.
For the last three years Lewisham has been in the top 40 hospitals list. It has no financial deficit, it has state-of-the-art services, and it is bang in the centre of one of London’s, indeed the country’s, most deprived areas.
No sense at all unless your point of view is formed by Tory ideology. Jeremy Hunt is not working freelance. He’s doing a job on behalf of the government and the class he politically represents. The Tories and the snivelling coalition bag carriers, the Lib-Dems, are out to wreck the NHS.
The Health and Social Care Act is set to reorganise the NHS so that it is little more than a brand, a logo on contracted out services.
There are more than 20 hospital trusts across the country facing crisis point, wondering what to do with the eye-watering deficits as a result of paying hand over fist on PFI contracts. The reorganisation of Lewisham Hospital and the South London Health Trust is a test case for the government, but they cannot afford to wait around to see how it goes over the next three years.
If they are to implement their plans for the NHS, they will need to open up a number of second fronts in their war on universal free health care. More sham consultations and reconfigurations will soon be taking place, followed by more cuts and closures.
Just two years off a general election where the NHS will be centre stage, we should be demanding things from Labour. At last year’s Labour Party conference policy was passed to “liberate the NHS of PFI debts”. Yet Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham has merely said that he will abolish elements of the Health and Social Care Act. What does this mean?
As we move closer to the general election, we should make sure that individual Labour candidates give their full and unconditional support to rebuilding the NHS as a priority for the next Labour government.