Safeguarding the Future of Lewisham Hospital

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign (SLHC) has fought on many fronts, relying on its own initiative and mobilising all concerned people to participate in the fight, to safeguard the future of Lewisham Hospital. They have been aware that the future direction of the whole NHS is at stake. It is a future in which the NHS is run on the basis that health care is a right, and the claims of all for health care at the highest level are met. This has come into clash with the anti-social austerity agenda which has been set on delivering health care on behalf of the health monopolies, has put health workers and professionals under unbearable strain, and has been wrecking the health service as a whole by starving it of funds and investment, compounding the problems by saddling it with punitive debts with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to the construction and other monopolies.

This issue of the future direction for the NHS is why the SLHC as well as fighting to Save Lewisham Hospital has put forward the slogan, “A Victory for Lewisham Hospital Is a Victory for Everyone”. For example, when the campaign decisively won its judicial review over the Trust Special Administrator acting outside his powers, this was a blow to the whole campaign of the government to close and fragment hospitals, to make health care less accessible and to ride roughshod over the claims of the people to health care. The slogan also embodies that success comes through fighting, and that the future direction of the NHS lies in the struggle to safeguard the right to health care. Thus the building of the SLHC as a consolidated fighting organisation devoted to combating all the deleterious effects of the austerity agenda on the NHS is an example to other campaigns, while the setbacks of some other campaigns can be seen as temporary in the context of the advance of the movement.

It was against this background that the SLHC had warned of the “unfinished business” of ongoing threats to A&E, maternity, intensive care and children’s wards at Lewisham Hospital. The Campaign stated that it was ready to fight again to defend the hospital with its comprehensive services because, despite the previous victories, it was constantly aware of the real possibility of further closure threats. To this end it launched a new petition to highlight the situation, to demonstrate the support of the community for the hospital, and to affirm that Lewisham Hospital’s comprehensive health care services are essential.

Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group has now written to Lewisham Greenwich NHS Trust giving a commitment to the longer term continuation of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department. This has been done with the full support of OHSEL (Our Healthier South East London – made up of the six CCG Commissioning Strategy Team) and NHS England.

The letter states. “[Lewisham CCG confirms] that commissioners expect to need all of south east London’s existing A&E departments, including at Lewisham Hospital. For the avoidance of doubt, we expect the Lewisham A&E Department to remain as an emergency care facility operating 24 hours a day.”

The SLHC has stated that this is excellent news for the Trust, for the 6,000 staff and for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign which has united the local community over the last three years to defend NHS services. The campaign had feared that the pressure from NHS England on the six CCGs to make £1.1billion cost efficiencies annually could jeopardise services at the hospital – including the A&E which the campaign had fought so hard to save.

Dr Louise Irvine, local GP and Chair of the SLH campaign said: “We are delighted with this firm commitment to Lewisham A&E from the commissioners. We want Lewisham Hospital to continue to successfully provide vital services to our community. This statement will really help the trust continue to retain and recruit the best healthcare staff which is excellent news. We are pleased that the commissioners clearly understand the importance of thriving District General Hospitals like Lewisham.”

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign had met with representatives from OHSEL, launched a successful petition to highlight this consultation and consistently worked to keep the public aware of developments within community and hospital healthcare. The SLHC says that it will remain very active and on alert to make sure that the commissioners’ expectations for South East London’s A&E departments happen.

“We are extremely happy about this week’s statement because it clarifies the importance of local A&E departments at a time when our population is increasing. This is really great news for Lewisham but there are still some very serious threats ahead to the NHS both locally and nationally from this current government,” Dr Tony O’Sullivan, Consultant Paediatrician at Lewisham Greenwich NHS Trust and a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, said.

The Campaign points out that future threats are severe: unrealistic NHS and social care budget cuts and targets, crippling PFI debts and unfair changes to NHS staff contracts – highlighted most recently by Jeremy Hunt’s attack on the hours and pay for junior doctors.

Vicky Penner of the SLHC said: “The SLH campaign will carry on actively drawing attention to the problems that our NHS faces from a government with ongoing contempt for patients, doctors and nurses. As a community campaign we have direct experience in Lewisham of Jeremy Hunt’s unacceptable attitude to NHS issues and staff. We send a huge message of support to junior doctors around the country and hope he quickly alters his current misguided and damaging approach.”

We congratulate all those who have been involved in the fight to safeguard the future of Lewisham Hospital on this latest victory. It is clear that the campaign is not resting on its laurels. There are serious battles ahead to ensure a new direction for the NHS, including the fight to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Lewisham’s battles and other courageous fights have been won through the unity in action of the forces in motion, based on the principle that health care is a right. Ultimately, lasting victory will be won with the people at every level of society becoming the decision-makers. Developing this movement, including the participation of the organised workers’ movement, is the task of the moment.

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