New Internationalist

Lewisham Hospital and the destruction of the NHS

Gathering for the protest
More than 130 Lewisham residents descended on Jeremy Hunt’s office Ander McIntyre

What better way to enjoy Valentine’s Day than a spot of direct action at the Department of Health? In the South London borough of Lewisham we don’t celebrate in private, we do it publically – and in style!

On Thursday 14 February, more than 130 babies, mums, dads, grannies and citizens of Lewisham descended unannounced on Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, at his office in Westminster, in a special Valentine’s call. Sadly, he did not join us to receive in person our heartfelt offerings, but that didn’t detract from a morning of peaceful but exuberant protest.

Our message was loud and proud: The fight to save Lewisham Hospital did not end with Jeremy Hunt’s announcement on the 31 January that acute services at Lewisham Hospital would be cut. Red heart-shaped balloons, homemade bunting to festoon the streets, posters inscribed with a message from the mothers, babies, children and people of Lewisham: ‘Don’t rip the heart out of our hospital, Mr Hunt.’ We also hand-delivered baby sock roses, each with its own story of a baby born and saved by Lewisham Hospital. In Lewisham we don’t go for subtle. We go for the jugular.

Lewisham Hospital baloons
The campaigners will keep fighting Ander McIntyre

How can this small part of London have any relevance to the rest of the country and world? I hear you cry.

The reason is this: Lewisham Hospital is a solvent and clinically well-respected healthcare provider. The fact that its fate hangs in the balance is purely financial: its vital services are being sacrificed to bail out the disastrous private finance initiative (PFI) contract that has drained the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust. So, according to Jeremy Hunt, it’s now perfectly acceptable to remove obstetric-led maternity and emergency care from a population of nearly 280,000 just to balance his books. Never mind the safety of the thousands who use the hospital every day, or the fact that neighbouring hospitals are full to bursting. No, the priority in healthcare these days is profitability.

The other reason why it is important to fight for Lewisham Hospital is the small incidental detail that the coalition government seems to have  an agenda to dismantle the Welfare State. I grew up in the shadow of Margaret Thatcher’s government, so sweeping changes to benefits, education and health were a feature of my childhood. I recognize an unmandated eradication of public services when I see one.

Lewisham Hospital is a test case for every hospital across England. And the wholesale destruction of the NHS will have ramifications beyond our green and pleasant shores. Isn’t the NHS held up as a shining light in international healthcare? If we lose a service that is free at the point of delivery, what will we replace it with? Gone will be the days of a pioneering health model to be replicated across the globe.

The boys at Number 10 may think they can dismiss down-at-heel Lewisham, with its massive population of refugees, asylum-seekers, travellers, migrants and vulnerable families, but they have underestimated the little people. The patronising arrogance of our well-oiled leaders will be their undoing.

We have strength and experience on our side. When many of our number have defied military juntas, grown up behind the iron curtain of Communism and marched thousands of miles across deserts, steppes, plains and the English Channel, taking on a bunch of public-school boys doesn’t seem too much of a struggle. And, as most of us are unemployed good for nothings – in the eyes of our esteemed government – we might as well while away our days taking a stand for our hospital, our NHS and the future of Britain’s Welfare State. We’re showing David Cameron what a Big Society can do when people join together and form a real community. We’re not going down without a big, public and embarrassing fight.

You can follow the campaign on Facebook or at the Save Lewisham Hospital website.

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  1. #1 Joe Taylor 28 Feb 13

    Congratulations to all involved - you're an inspiration to the rest of country.

    Sitting back and letting those who claim to 'represent' us, but who actually represent a fatally flawed ideology, like Jeremy Hunt and many like him, get away with this kind of behaviour isn't an option. Everything of any value will be taken away from us if we don't fight for it. Well done Lewisham.

  2. #2 Jos Bell 02 Mar 13

    a great blog post by Jessica - the fight to save Lewisham Hospital from this nonsensical attack is a paradigm for the defence of the NHS from ideological assault. This hospital is sustainable and successful - the budget to destroy it and to re-align the failed SLHT is £1.093 bn , however in 30 years time this plan will continue to be £450million in deficit. Keeping Lewisham Hospital, with it's affordabel PFI, which is completely separate from the neighbouring trust, and sorting out the Woolwich PFI will actually save money. Although the government are trying to present this as an economic rationale, the truth is that it will cost three times as much to dismantle Lewisham Hospital than it will to keep it as a going concern. There is no clinical or economic argument for the proposed destruction of our hospital. Meanwhile, legal teams are taking a forensic look at these plans.

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About the author

Jessica Ormerod a New Internationalist contributor

Jessica Ormerod is a passionate defender of the NHS and Lay Chair of Lewisham Hospital’s maternity committee which represents the interests of Lewisham women and their infants. She lives in London with her husband, three young children and many cats.

Follow the progress of the Lewisham Hospital Campaign at the Save Lewisham Hospital website and the trials and tribulations of Lewisham’s threatened maternity services at the Lewisham maternity committee blog.

Read more by Jessica Ormerod

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