New Internationalist

Ten little fingers born in the NHS

Ten little fingers, ten little toes,
Two little ears and one little nose
Two little eyes that shine so bright
And one little mouth to kiss mother goodnight.

(Children’s nursery rhyme)

A chilly but sunny afternoon at the beginning of March. Four happy children play in a back garden, shouting and laughing. It’s tea-time so the children come inside for a spot of toast and cake. One little girl leans on a door frame to take off her shoes. At the same time the door is slammed shut onto the middle finger of her right hand.

She shrieks, I run, open the door and see that the top joint of one of the fingers of my beautiful, perfect five-year-old girl Beatrice has been amputated. Before I know what I am doing I shout to my friend to get us to Accident & Emergency, and hold the joint onto the finger. My little girl screams and screams, we rush into a neighbour’s car and within 10 minutes we are at Lewisham Hopsital’s Children’s Emergency Department.

Beatrice with bandaged hand
Jessica and Beatrice are grateful to Lewisham Hospital Ormerod family

That was three weeks ago and those 10 minutes felt like an eternity. Beatrice fainted five times in the car and I was powerless to stop the horrible pain I knew she was in. I wanted to cry and scream myself but I knew I had to be strong.

The soaring relief on arrival at the hospital was immense. We were seen immediately. Beatrice was given pain relief, at which point she fell into a deep sleep, and I was given reassurance by the fabulous nurses and doctors. We were transferred to St. Thomas’ Hospital that evening, Beatrice had surgery the next morning and we were home again within 24 hours of the terrible injury taking place.

Thank you, Lewisham Hospital. If you hadn’t been there it would have been an hour or more before Beatrice had pain relief and the care she needed to prevent her losing her finger. Long may you stay open for business.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lewisham Hospital is a successful, solvent healthcare provider. It’s the kind of hospital that Prime Minister David Cameron promised to champion during the election campaign when he pontificated: ‘The NHS is safe in my hands.’

And yet, this fantastic hospital full of caring doctors, nurses and sensible managers is scheduled for down-grade to bail out South London Healthcare Trust in a neighbouring London borough. As wrong as it is that the people of Woolwich are being penalized for the mismanagement and bumbling decision-making of politicians, it really shouldn’t be Lewisham Hospital’s responsibility to shoulder the burden.

Jeremy Hunt and the cabal at the Department of Health tell us that their hands are tied, there’s nothing they can do; they must balance the books! Don’t we know there’s a massive deficit? Don’t we understand that the NHS is simply too expensive?

It certainly doesn’t help build confidence that the Health Minister persists in clinging to the false statistic that the massive service reconfiguration in southeast London will save 100 lives per year. Even Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, has written a public letter to distance himself from the wayward minister’s gaffe. But, oh no, Hunt bumbles on. He’s even passed the misinformation to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who ineptly trotted it out at a People’s Question Time held in the London borough of Lewisham. I wonder whether he’ll listen to Jeremy again after the roasting he got from the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign?

The disastrous plans for Lewisham will expose an entire borough of London to unacceptable risk. The plans fly in the face of patient care and health equality by taking us back by a generation in maternity provision. I think it would be fair to say that David Cameron’s pledge to keep the NHS safe is one made in pure fantasy.

Meanwhile, Beatrice’s finger continues to heal and I’ve been daydreaming about what I’d like to do with my middle finger, but I have to concede that this might not be the best way to negotiate with the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP. Tempting though it is.

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  1. #1 Alan 26 Mar 13

    Thank you, Jessica, for posting this. The NHS as we have known it is all but dead. From April 1st new legislation will open it up to privatisation and sharks like Virgin etc to move in... it is a tragedy of immense proportions and I fear the general public has little idea as to what awaits them/us. Hardly anyone seems to be listening, but thank goodness for campaigns like Save Lewisham Hospital and groups like the NHA Party (
    All we can do is fight on to save what's left of the NHS.
    Hope Beatrice is making a full recovery! I have a daughter, and I can only imagine the horror of what happened.

  2. #2 Jessica 27 Mar 13

    Thank you, Alan, for your kind words.

    As you say, Section 75 will lay waste to the NHS forever. It is hard to understand why there hasn't been more publicity about it when there is such widespread public disbelief that our public services are being eradicated before our very eyes.

    Fortunately Beatrice is recovering brilliantly but a chill goes down my spine when I think about when my daughters - I have three - will have their own babies. What state will our maternity services be in 20 years down the road?

  3. #3 Alan 27 Mar 13

    I agree Jessica. The future looks bleak.
    I often say to people if they want to glimpse the future they should look to the past and read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. When, and if they do, they think I'm exaggerating, that things could never be that bad again. Well, we'll see. All I know is the Tories have always wanted to dismantle the welfare state and this lot are going full throttle to do just that and they are using the excuse of 'austerity' to do it. Even the dreaded Thatcher would never have dared go this far.
    All we can do is keep fighting. We owe it to our children and future generations to do so.
    I'm so glad Beatrice is on the mend! That is good news!

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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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