Demonstration planned in protest against controversial closure of Lewisham A&E and maternity units

Lewisham Hospital. Pic: Juan Luis Passarelli

Opponents of controversial proposals to close Lewisham A&E and maternity units are planning a mass demonstration to “hold hands around our hospital” later this month.

Members of the public came out in force last night to attack plans at a packed public meeting. Both units could close by February 2013 to reduce the South London Healthcare NHS Trust’s mounting debt. Public consultation will continue until December 13.

So many people gathered at the hospital yesterday evening that an extra room had to be hired.

The demonstration on November 24 will start at Loampit Vale roundabout at 2pm and reach Lewisham hospital at 3pm, where those attending will link hands around the building.

The closures have been proposed because the Trust has overspent by £65 million in the last year.

The meeting was organised by Dr Louise Irvine, an avid campaigner against NHS reforms, along with groups such as Save Lewisham A&E.

Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock described the attitude of the Trust Special Administrator, the body responsible for proposals, as ‘cavalier’, condemning them as ‘disastrous’. He described the hospital as a ‘sacrifice’ for the SLH Trust’s debt, which hit £153 million in March.

Sir Steve said: “To propose that the heart of a hospital be ripped out is something I find quite staggering. Everyone is struggling to understand why this hospital is being offered up as a sacrifice.

“It is critical that we maintain our emergency services. The bottom line is that the A&E unit should stay here at Lewisham.”

Concerns were raised over suggestions that most residents would avoid Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich because of the distance.

Referring to suggestions that emergency cases should be re-directed to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sir Steve said: “It’s a heck of a journey to different hospitals.

“We live in the real world and most people in Lewisham won’t go to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”

Eileen Smith, of Save our Local Hospitals, said the hospital could be ‘asset-stripped’. “The young people are losing far too much today. Don’t let them lose the NHS.”

Labour MP for Lewisham East Heidi Alexander, who asked the community to “stand united” has already gathered 9,000 signatures to a petition opposing closure.

Alexander said every mother should have the right to give birth in her local hospital.“I believe that a full maternity service should remain. I think that when women are pregnant, they should be able to go to their local hospital, see their local midwives and have their babies there.

“And if something goes wrong with your baby, you need to know that it can be treated there.

“The link between A&E and maternity is crucial.”

A spokesperson for the TSA said Lewisham hospital would face financial difficulty within the next few years because it was barely breaking even now.

He added: “The solution to both Lewisham’s financial problems and South London Healthcare’s financial problems has to be one answer. Lewisham hospital is both a part of the problem and the answer.”

The spokesperson for the TSA said: “We need fewer, more centralised maternity units. Every hospital in South East London is not meeting the required standard of one midwife per 30 births. At the moment it is 45.

“An option would be to have obstetrician-led centralised units, to ensure that when a woman is in established labour, she has a dedicated midwife. They could still continue to have all prenatal appointments at Lewisham”

“We want the people of Lewisham to tell us what they want.

“More women are now wanting to have their babies at home. Women don’t want their pregnancies medicalised – it’s a natural experience, and too many people on hand can be distressing.”

Lewisham hospital delivered 4,400 babies last year, and deals with up to 315 visitors a day.

The spokesperson said 99% of Lewisham residents will still continue to be within 30 minutes of a hospital in a blue light ambulance.

They said:  “In reality, we are expecting standards of service to improve. If you provide A&E at fewer sites, you can have more doctors on call and a more robust service.”

The public will be able to question the Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw in a meeting at Greenwich Town Hall on November 15 at 5:30pm.

The next campaign meeting will be held at Goldsmiths College on November 16 at 10am.

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