Candle-lit vigil as Lewisham Hospital consultation closes

Rihanna, 4, supporting the campaign at Lewisham Hospital. Pic: Bethany Rutter

A peaceful demonstration and candle-lit vigil marked the end of the public consultation period on the controversial closure of units at Lewisham Hospital last night as campaigners said it was ‘just the beginning’ of their work to save the institution.

The protest began outside the hospital yesterday at 4pm. Demonstrators burnt of the consultation documents over a makeshift barbecue and sang protest songs written about the proposals from a song sheet.

Juan Vazquez, chaplain at Lewisham Hospital, explained the meaning behind the candles: “A vigil is a sign of mourning; it’s a tradition to light a candle when somebody dies. It’s like us handing a light to Cameron over this issue, to get him to sort it out.”

The crowd had also planned to let off Chinese lanterns, but were told they couldn’t by the Civil Aviation Authority. However, the message of hope was still loud and clear, with candles lit and songs sung until 7pm.

Lewisham residents had been given just 30 days to present their views on the proposals from Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw, who recommended that their A&E and maternity units be closed to help reduce the South London Healthcare NHS Trust’s growing debt.

Dr Marie-Louise Irvine, a local GP, said of the consultation period: “We don’t think it has been fair. There were very few paper copies [of the recommendations], and people who didn’t have computers had difficulty responding, so tonight we are burning a few copies of his [Kershaw’s] consultation document. We feel that we are being ignored, and he’s not interested in what we think. What we are saying is that it’s not the end of the campaign.”

Since the consultation period began on November 2, Lewisham has become home to what Dr John Lister, a GP at Amersham Vale, described as: “One of the biggest hospital movements in living history.”

Gathered outside the front of the hospital and down Lewisham High Street were patients, doctors, campaign organisers, nurses, parents and children who all have personal experiences of the hospital.

Former patient Monica Seymour said tearfully: “Last year I was here and for three weeks I was in a diabetic coma. They were so good to me so I don’t want them to close my A&E. I feel let down by the government – it just makes me feel sad. If anything happens to me, where can I go? I’m an old woman.”

Candle-lit vigil held outside Lewisham Hospital on Thursday night. Pic: Bethany Rutter

Susanna Farley from Lewisham Socialist Party said: “We’re here because of what is happening to the NHS all over. The situation is being replicated up and down the country.

“You’ve got to make a stand. We think the health workers union should ballot their members for a strike. The community campaign is good, but it really needs to link up with a campaign from the trade unions, where they actually go on strike.”

The next step for Save Lewisham Hospital will be a ‘huge’ day of protest on January 26, 2013 to address Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health, before he decides whether to implement Kershaw’s final recommendations. Campaign group Save Lewisham A&E are even hoping to get their views into BBC’s Question Time, when the programme is recorded in Lewisham on January 10.

Dr Irvine said: “There will be a major event on the 26th. The focus then will be on Hunt, not on Kershaw. Even if Hunt makes the decision to close Lewisham Hospital, we will still keep on fighting to reverse the decision.”

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