Can the Lewisham campaign save the NHS?
Could one small district general hospital save the National Health Service?
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.