Hundreds gather in the rain at ‘Born in Lewisham’ protest against downgrade of hospital services

Pic: Hugh McCafferty

Pic: Hugh McCafferty

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Lewisham Hospital in the rain today to voice their opposition to the proposed downgrade of the institution’s emergency and maternity services.

Tony O’Sullivan of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign said: “It’s a real disgrace, to downgrade a very successful hospital with a very important part to play in the community.

O’Sullivan, who works as a paediatric consultant for Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust, added: “Taking Lewisham A&E out would leave one emergency department for 750,000 people across three boroughs. The Government’s plan is for Queen Elizabeth, Woolwich, to be the main A&E centre and, even at the moment, that’s stretched.

A downgrade, as outlined by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt in January, would mean the loss of adult and children A&E facilities, and the introduction of a smaller, more limited midwife-led maternity unit.

The protest’s theme was “Born in Lewisham”, with people delivered in the hospital particularly encouraged to attend.

Cushla Brennan and her husband Alex Margolies, who live a short walk away, brought their sons, Noah and Emerson, along. “Emerson was born here,” Brennan said, adding: “I think the decision to downgrade is terrible.”

Margolies continued: “It’s incredibly dangerous. We had to take Noah to the children’s A&E on one occasion because he wasn’t breathing properly. Because we live around the corner, we were able to pick him up and bring him, but otherwise we would have had to call an ambulance.”

Cushla Brennan, sons Emerson and Noah, and husband Alex Margolies. Pic: Hugh McCafferty

Another protester, who wished not to be named, told Eastlondonlines that, had she given birth in the maternity unit envisioned by the Government, she and her child might not still be alive.

“I’ve had three babies at the hospital,” she said. “With the second one, my womb ruptured, it was really life-threatening – for me because of a lack of blood and for the baby because of a lack of oxygen. If there had been no consultant, just midwives, like what they’re hoping to do, and we were taken in an ambulance to another hospital, it might have been too late.”

The protest came in the same week Save Lewisham Hospital mounted a legal challenge to the Government’s downgrade decision.

Jos Bell, spokesperson for the organisation, told Eastlondonlines that the challenge was intended to act in a “complimentary fashion” to a separate legal action by Lewisham Council launched on 8 March.  No downgrade will take place until these proceedings are completed.

As with November’s “Hands Around Our Hospital” rally, the protest was intended to culminate in the formation of a human chain around the building. Numbers weren’t high enough to completely encircle the hospital but O’Sullivan remained upbeat: “I would say there are four or five hundred people here today. It’s been a very good turnout, despite the weather.”

Karen Alleyne, a communications officer who moved to Lewisham six months ago, was similarly impressed by the size of the crowd: “Keeping services at Lewisham seems to be a no-brainer to me. People don’t want the services to change, we’ve been protesting for a long time and it’s not being heard. When this many people come together, it says a lot, really.”

Karen Alleyne. Pic: Hugh McCafferty

Karen Alleyne. Pic: Hugh McCafferty

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