Spirits high as Save Lewisham Hospital campaign goes national and legal [Audio]

Save Lewisham A&E meeting Pic:Lucy Johnson

Save Lewisham A&E meeting Pic: Lucy Johnson

At a meeting at Goldsmiths College on Thursday April 26 , speakers from the health professions and the local community restated their commitment to protect Lewisham Hospital services from being downgraded.

Contributions at the meeting were made from invited guests and members of the public. Speakers sought to make connections with NHS campaigners in London and more widely across the UK, as well as with other public services facing changes and cuts, including the fire service.

A banner taped up on stage in the Great Hall read, “A victory for Lewisham Hospital is a victory for everyone.”

Louise Irvine, a local GP and Save Lewisham Hospital campaign chair, said that the campaign was “still alive and kicking and strong and growing” and that they were “looking at wider issues threatening the NHS”.

There are currently two judicial reviews looking into Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to approve changes to NHS services in the area. These changes would include the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency department and maternity unit. The first judicial review is being led by Lewisham Council and is challenging the government as to whether it has the right to make changes to Lewisham Hospital. The second review, which is being prepared by the SLH campaign, is based on the four tests which must be met before any reconfigurations can be made to NHS services. In a statement issued in January, Mr Hunt said that the recommendations have passed these four tests, while the campaigners say that none of the criteria have been met.

These four tests are that any proposed changes must have:

  • support from GP commissioners
  • strengthened public and patient engagement
  • clarity on the clinical evidence base
  • and consistency with current and prospective patient choice

In response to the prospect of a judicial review brought by Lewisham Council a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The clinical interests of patients in south east London were at the heart of the Secretary of State’s decision making process, and as a result he followed clinical advice to keep open the A&E in Lewisham.”

The DoH added: “However, some changes need to be made to ensure that patients in south east London will be able to rely on the NHS for years to come. We are confident that the Secretary of State and the TSA acted within their powers, and will vigorously defend the claim from Lewisham Council.”

Although changes to health services in the area will not be made until the judicial reviews have been heard, Louise Irvine said that “even if we were to win a reprieve for Lewisham Hospital, those threats will still be there.” But she added, “I feel positive because…there is a groundswell developing and we’re going to hit them really hard with a mass movement.”

Tony O’Sullivan, who is a children’s consultant for Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust, said that “this issue for Lewisham isn’t going to be solved overnight, and it’s part of a huge assault on the NHS up and down the country,” claiming that “if they can close Lewisham Hospital down, they can close any hospital down.” He said that, although the decision to downgrade Lewisham had been disheartening, the spirits of staff at the hospital were buoyed up by the support shown by the local community.

Earlier in the day, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had spoken on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, citing “bad out-of-hours provision” from GPs as one reason that admissions to A&E departments have risen. Irvine responded by saying, “I’m a GP. We’re completely worked off our feet with the huge workload we have, and I don’t think to blame GPs for the demand on A&E is appropriate. I think we have to talk about investing properly in A&Es and not closing them.”

Campaigners are organising a “Hunt for Hunt” on 15h June, in which residents of Lewisham will be taken by bus to the Health Secretary’s constituency in South West Surrey, in order to stage a demonstration.

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