24 November: young Lewisham residents rally to the defence of their hospital.
South London Health Care Trust was the first failing NHS Trust placed under a Trust Special Administrator by the now departed Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley. The decision to move to administration flew in the face of a successful recovery plan being implemented in the trust. The decision was political and driven by ideology. The government wanted to provoke a crisis and see how market forces would react.
Sadly the legislation was already on the statute book from the previous Labour government, part of their drive to introduce a market-led NHS. The Trust is one of about 20 nationally that face bankruptcy due to a combination of private finance initiatives, poor historic management, the re-introduction of the market into health, and the government’s intention to privatise the National Health Service.
If a reaction was what the government was hoping for, indeed they have got one. Every public consultation meeting has seen hundreds of people attending with packed out or overfilled halls and overflow venues heaving. Over 10,000 people marched at short notice to defend Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency facilities, which are not directly part of South London Healthcare but part of the integrated South East London health economy.
Ironically David Cameron in 2007 boasted of being willing to go into a bare-knuckled fight to defend 27 threatened A&E departments, which at the time included Lewisham. Now planned for the axe, Lewisham A&E seems to have slipped his memory.
Petitions and meetings have galvanised the public consultation exercise, which closed in mid-December. A draft of the report was burnt at an angry 200-strong vigil on 13 December, and its organisers Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign plan a demonstration on 26 January ahead of Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s decision on the report in February.
The campaign around the SLH Trust is showing you cannot isolate or pick off one Trust; all NHS facilities in South East London are deeply integrated and support each other. Attempted break-up and hiving off of NHS facilities is not as easy as the government thinks, especially when a furore from the population of South East London is roused. ■