Angry protestors mob Matthew Kershaw at consultation on Lewisham A&E and maternity ward closure

Pic: Alan Dymock

Matthew Kershaw, NHS trust special administrator, was greeted with angry boos and cries of “shame” yesterday, as he met with people in Lewisham to hear their views on the proposals to shut Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and maternity units.

Kershaw arrived at the Calabash Centre on George Lane and had to be escorted into the building by a security team as protesters chanted outside. Attendance at the public meeting was so high that an overflow room was required to accomodate everybody present.

Eastlondonlines are supporting the campaign – and urging opponents of the scheme to sign the online petition and register their opposition through the formal consultation.

The Q&A session was delivered by a panel of experts who helped to compile the recommendations for closure, including Dr Michael Marrinan, medical director of King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust. Kershaw was also joined by Dr Jane Fryer, chief medical advisor to the Trust Special Administrator, and Dr Andy Mitchell, medical director of NHS London.

Gavin Grey, an independent journalist and chair for the meeting, introduced the panel to a chorus of “shame on you!” from the audience. During the heated exchange, a team of protestors remained outside the building and continued to demonstrate until Kershaw left.

Private Finance Initiative, sustainability, capacity and transport times were some of the issues raised at the meeting.

The question “Where are babies going to go?” was shouted as the panel tried to explain how the proposals could improve patient care. Marrinan’s response that they would go to other hospitals in south-east London was met with cries of outrage.

Questions became centred on how busy hospitals would cope with the influx of patients, should the proposed changes be made to Lewisham’s services. In response to this, Kershaw said: “We understand that at this moment there are pressures on the hospital system. Nobody is disputing that. I work in and out of south London Healthcare trusts everyday and I see it myself.

“What we are saying is that the changes that we are making, that GPs and commissioners have worked on with us, will get people out of hospitals quicker when they are ready, and that will change capacity in the system.

“We are also talking about creating capacity where it’s needed. That’s a part of the transition plan, both in terms of the cost of that and the time it takes to do it.”

Audience members repeatedly brought up the issue of PFI throughout the public consultation. Kershaw explained: “What I cannot do is take away the PFI issue that exists. The PFI contracts are there, the buildings are there, it’s a policy that I cannot change. The NHS has contracts with those companies.

“I am saying firstly that the local NHS shouldn’t pay what it can’t afford. There are PFIs all around the country, the vast majority of which work perfectly well. There is a small number across the country where there is a gap between affordability, and what is available locally. In south London there are two of these hospitals, one in Woolwich and one in Bromley.”

When asked what ambulance response times were, Hannah Farrar, Kershaw’s strategic advisor said: “The average journey time from the point of which the patient is picked up to getting to Lewisham hospital at the moment is 13.2 minutes.

“If the recommendations were accepted and there were changes to the services at Lewisham, the average journey time would become 20.6 minutes. That is a peak time, blue light ambulance journey time.”

After being pressed on the subject of critical patients, such as those who have suffered heart attacks or strokes, Farrar replied: “South-east London at the moment has a heart attack centre at St Thomas’s. If you were to have a heart attack in this borough, that is where the London Ambulance Service takes you now.

“If you have a stroke in this borough, you are taken to King’s College Hospital or to the Princess Royal in Bromley, and the target time to do that is 30 minutes. These proposals don’t make any changes to this.”

An audience member addressed the three doctors on the panel, and asked them: “You say that some of you have been a part of the NHS for over 20 years. At what point did you have the spirit and the fight squeezed out of you?”

Dr Fryer insisted that Lewisham A&E will not shut and that over 70 per cent of those already taken in would still continue to be treated there. Dr Fryer added: “For the people who are the most urgently ill, they will be taken to one of four other hospitals.”

Fighting his way through angry crowds, Kershaw was escorted out of the building by police and security guards. Protesters followed behind, shouting: “No ifs, no buts, no NHS cuts!”

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