Campaigners gathered yesterday for a meeting urging the public to support workers’ action in a bid to save Lewisham A&E and maternity units.
Local residents, hospital workers and union members were among those at the Catford Broadway Theatre on “super Wednesday”. The day earned its nickname as action to stop proposed closures by Matthew Kershaw, trust special administrator, was discussed simultaneously across three different locations within the borough.
The two hour meeting led to calls for Lewisham staff to occupy their hospital and stage a “work-in”, to protest against “the poorly thought out, unfair and dangerous” recommendations. Speakers included activists from other institutions that have been narrowly saved from closure, campaigning experts and Lewisham hospital consultants.
Shirley Franklin, chairman of Defend the Whittington Hospital, said it was critical for trade unions to show their support.
She also said: “I want to speak a bit to the health workers here. It’s very important that people take action. I’m saying that if you withdraw your labour for one or two days, you deny us our health service for one or two days, but you save it in the long term. If they say cutback, we say strike back.”
Described by various meeting members as “dictatorial”, “our friend from Mars” and “the man with the funny calculator”, Kershaw’s plans to solve the South London NHS Trust’s £65m debt by closing wards in Lewisham have been met with widespread distress since the consultation period began on November 2.
The campaign has received a boost after traffic control reported that 15,000 demonstrators attended Saturday’s protest. Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East, told the packed theatre that her petition against the closures has now received over 20,000 signatures.
Alexander was met with anger and heckles from some members of the audience, who repeatedly shouted: “Who brought in PFI?” in response to New Labour adopting the Private Finance Initiative after the 1997 general election. It is widely understood that PFI debt has resulted in approximately a third of the South London NHS Trust’s overall debt.
Lewisham A&E currently runs at 95 per cent capacity, serving one of the most deprived boroughs in London. In 2012, 34.8 per cent of patients who were admitted to A&E were placed on life support. Annual birth figures in the maternity unit have been rising steadily for the last eight years, and there have been 4,400 so far in 2012.
One hospital worker stated that of these 4,000 births, more than half are deemed to be high risk and would require immediate emergency attention.
Dr John Lister from London Health Emergency addressed the gathering with a powerful speech, congratulating residents for “building the biggest movement against hospital closures in London in living memory.” He said: “This is the most dictatorial, brutal process that has ever been drawn up by an administrator.”
Lister also called to account documents created by the administration that estimate how long it would take residents to reach an alternative A&E by private transport. “They have assessed the time it will take for you to reach A&E during ‘non traffic hours,’” he said, and the auditorium responded with laughter.
Finishing his speech, Lister reminded everyone that they were currently sat in a theatre, and that it was indeed panto season. “They’re coming to take your hospital”, he shouted, to which a great cry of “oh no they’re not!” was returned amid more laughter.
Next Tuesday Lewisham campaigners will gather to meet with Kershaw at the Calabash Centre in George Lane to express their grievances. Helmut Heib, secretary of Lewisham Keep our NHS Public, asked the crowd to attend and “converge on Kershaw”.
The consultation period will end on December 13. For information on public meetings and further action visit http://www.savelewishamhospital.com/