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.

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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.

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Can the Lewisham campaign save the NHS?

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Save Lewisham Hospital have taken their campaign to the High Court R/DV/RS under a Creative Commons Licence

Could one small district general hospital save the National Health Service?

The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is hoping so. This week is going to be a crucial one for us as we take our fight to the High Court

In 2012, South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) was put into administration by Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s Secretary of State for Health. A Trust Special Administrator was put in post and tasked with a seemingly impossible job: sort out the ailing finances of a Trust burdened with a monstrous private finance initiative (PFI) contract.

It’s a fact universally acknowledged for those in South London that SLHT has been doomed for years There have been several unsuccessful plans to rescue it, so no-one was particularly surprised when the government put it into administration. The shock came a few months later, in October 2012, when Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw announced that SLHT’s debts were too gigantic and complex, and that he would be looking at neighbouring Trusts to help shoulder the burden. Suddenly the coffers of Lewisham Hospital looked quite appealing.

Kershaw clearly thought it wasn’t impossible to appropriate some of Lewisham’s capital and real estate in his attempt to balance the books. Never mind that the piece of legislation he was using at the time (The Regime for Unsustainable Providers) specifically states that it cannot be used beyond the Trust in administration or for service reorganization.

I shan’t go on about the highs and lows of the campaign: first to challenge the bizarre misuse of the Unsustainable Provider Regime and then to exhort Hunt to recognize the illegality of Kershaw harvesting the vital organs of Lewisham Hospital’s acute services and obstetric-led maternity care.

As those who have followed our previous forays into the wonderful world of publicity will know, we like a bit of style in Lewisham. Mayor of London Boris Johnson won’t forget his red carpet treatment in February and I am sure I saw the curtains twitch at the Department of Health when Lewisham’s Buggy Army descended en masse for a true Valentine’s celebration

So, can you blame us for attempting to make history once again?

This time we’ve brought in the big guns: Michael Mansfield QC and his special force of barristers from Tooks Chambers joined us on Saturday 29 June for a trail-blazing run at the iniquities of this government’s onslaught on the NHS. Public health professor Allyson Pollock, academic Colin Leys and peer David Owen all spoke in defence of our precious local hospital and to paint the greater picture of the need to save the NHS from marketization and privatization.

Over the course of one day we heard from 25 witnesses giving evidence in a People’s Commission chaired by Mansfield and supported by philosopher and peer Mary Warnock and writer Blake Morrison as fellow judges. The evidence was given by doctors, nurses, patients, carers, the CEO of Lewisham Hospital and yours truly in my role as Chair of Lewisham Maternity Service Liaison Committee. In one voice we argued the case against the Trust Special Administrator and against the destruction of the NHS. I am proud to have been part of it.

Two judicial reviews have started their hearings at the High Court. By Friday 5 July we’ll know the fate of our hospital.

If Lewisham Hospital is downgraded no hospital in Britain will be safe – so be on your guard! The Regime for Unsustainable Providers could be coming to a hospital near you, so support our campaign at the High Court before it’s too late.

I’ll leave you with the words of Aneurin Bevan’s leaflet to launch the NHS 65 years ago:

Your new National Health Service starts on 5 July. What is it? How do you get it?
It will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a ‘charity’. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness – National Health Service leaflet 1948.

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.

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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