A government appointed technocrat (Trust Special Administrator) has recommended closing Lewisham’s children’s wards, critical care unit and emergency surgery to pay massive debts at neighbouring hospitals. He wants to shut Lewisham Hospital A&E and replace it with a non-admitting Urgent Care Centre. Maternity services could be lost too, and half the hospital sold for £17million. He has also proposed a decimation of services throughout South East London, with massive job losses, privatisation and sell-offs.
In July, Tory Health Minister Andrew Lansley MP hand-picked a ‘special administrator’ to take over South London Healthcare Trust. The administrator, Matthew Kershaw, has completed a draft report that recommends Lewisham Hospital close their A&E. And their children’s wards, critical care, emergency and complex surgery units, and perhaps the maternity services. He then wants to sell off Lewisham Hospital’s empty buildings for £17million, only £5million less than this year’s A&E refurb. Lewisham Hospital is not part of South London Healthcare, where the administrator was appointed.
The administrator believes closing Lewisham A&E will force patients through the doors of the heavily indebted Queen Elizabeth Hospital, thus increasing its income. However, this trick has already been performed once, when Queen Mary’s Sidcup A&E was closed 2 years ago, and currently up to 1 in 5 patients wait over 4 hours for treatment in Queen Elizabeth A&E. It will overwhelm the indebted Queen Elizabeth Hospital, at a time when the administrator also recommends it makes £100million of further cuts.
Lewisham residents, MPs, the mayor and hospital workers across both trusts have come together to support a campaign group to oppose the recommendations- Save Lewisham A&E. Lewisham residents don’t want to be punished for the political failures of recent years and they feel the administrator process has been abused to attack the NHS- which is why the administrator exceeded his jurisdiction at South London Healthcare and swung the axe at nearby Lewisham.
If the newly-refurbished Lewisham A&E closes, the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley (population 750,000) will have 1 accident and emergency to share.
South London Healthcare has inherited immense debts caused by political mismanagement- unaffordable bank loans were taken out at the same time rules were introduced to ban the NHS distributing money from profitable areas to those that were in need. So, despite excellent rates of infection and low mortality, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Mary’s, Sidcup, Princess Royal, Farnborough and Orpington Hospital were deemed failures.
The NHS is now structured so that individual trusts cannot receive surplus money from other areas, but when it comes to savage cuts, the opposite applies. The government is using semantic arguments about why £4billion pounds of NHS cash reserves can’t be used and why Lewisham A&E should close. The fact is, if you have a road accident on the South Circular, Jeremy Hunt is happy to risk that you could die on your way to hospital so that he can repay the banks without using NHS reserves. Indeed, the Treasury has taken back £1billion from the NHS, punishing it for savings made in the last few years.
The recommendation to close Lewisham A&E is part of an ideological assault on the NHS. The administrator’s plans to make cuts and close local competitors is designed to make South London’s services more attractive to private healthcare. Although some NHS Trusts have expressed an interest in running South London’s services, so have many private companies. The tendering process will be overseen by Jeremy Hunt, not the administrator. It is likely to be focused on cost and servicing the debt, rather than quality. So although headlines are focused on local trusts, private health companies are at an advantage when they compete on cost, because they don’t bear the costs of A&E’s, intensive care, or training medical professionals.
Do not be fooled into thinking any of our A&Es have to close for the sake of patients, it is being done to attack our NHS. Lewisham Healthcare runs a successful hospital, which could die a slow death if the administrator’s plans are taken up.
A public meeting set up by a group of campaigners is taking place at the hospital tonight at 6pm to discuss what can be done to prevent this from happening.
If you are available please get down there and help build as big a campaign as possible.