Future of Lewisham A&E is debated in Parliament

Heidi Alexander. Pic: Fiona Mee

Local MP Heidi Alexander brought the campaign to save Lewisham A&E to Westminster today, in a bid to push the campaign to the forefront of political consideration.

Addressing ministers, Alexander said: “Children who are hurt, the elderly who have had a bad fall; they don’t disappear into thin air, they still need treatment. Mothers-to-be still need somewhere to give birth.”

Alexander opened the debate by highlighting the core problems that could arise from the closure of the admitting accident and emergency services at Lewisham. Alexander said: “I have not known an issue to cause as much anger and concern as the proposals currently on the table.”

Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, warned that reducing services at Lewisham Hospital would create a ‘tidal wave’ influx of patients on other hospitals. “The effect of closing A&E and maternity services [at Lewisham] will hit like a tidal wave at Kings College Hospital because of the numbers involved. There will be a 45 per cent increase at the number of people at King’s A&E.  They will not be able to cope with a 45 per cent increase.

“As far as maternity services are concerned, the situation will be even more pronounced. There is a 54 per cent increase envisaged in the number of women giving birth at Kings. They simply can’t cope with that. At the moment, many of them are tuned away and told to go – guess where – to Lewisham.

“In my view, it’s sheer madness. “

Bob Stewart, Conservative MP for Beckenham referred to health reforms introduced by the New Labour in the debate, pointing to health plans proposed by New Labour before the Coalition came to power as a basis for the TSA’s six recommendations. He said: “She [Alexander] mentioned in her comments a few moments ago, that she didn’t understand where these plans have come from. Has she considered that this is merely a re-hash of the scheme that NHS London tried to get past the health review four or five years ago and failed miserably?”

He went on to express his empathy at the way changes to maternity services under these recommendations could affect mothers to be. Stewart said: “As a father of six children, I can tell you that there is nothing more upsetting than a lady about to give birth trying to get into hospital and being shipped around.

“I really am against the idea of its role being changed. Lewisham requires a hospital and it should keep its particular hospital.”

Later in the debate, Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey spoke, telling ministers that he was still, ” carrying the  scars from the battle to keep Guys Hospital open”. The hospital lost its A&E unit in 1998.

Hughes described the “history of financial poor management” that had occurred over the last decade, and said: “We’re in the position we are in now because of a legacy of really poor decisions.

“There is an alternative way if dealing with this. The alternative is…an a amalgamation of NHS management between Lewisham and Greenwich, and they then can work out the best distribution of services.”

Dame Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptfrod replied: “There is a real willingness in Lewisham to work for some kind of merger or co-operation with Woolwich that could reduce costs. But [it needs to be] in the right circumstances, at the right time, with appropriate consultation, which is what has been missing from this process.”

Alexander described the consultation period as: “Six weeks of the worst consultation period I have ever seen,” and described the impact of turning Lewisham’s obstetric led maternity unit into a mid-wife led unit.

Alexander said: “I believe women should be able to give birth at their local hospital. I believe that women should not go to their local hospitals for antenatal appointments, only to have to go to another hospital to give birth.

“The proposal to have a midwife- led birthing unit at Lewisham is not an option for any woman who wants to give birth safe in the knowledge that she would have back up obstetric support if needed. I am told that it wouldn’t be an option for first time mums.”

Jim Dowd, Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, expressed his disbelief at the figures amassed by the TSA in his final report.  The MP also described the ‘fury” felt by residents of the borough. “The trust special administrator has deliberately manipulated the figures in both draft and final report to mask the fact that it would push Kings Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich over the 8,000 mark[for births]

“It is such a ludicrous operation, so ridiculous in its scope and its intent, such a shoddy piece of work quite frankly, that I don’t think the secretary of state… will be so foolish as to proceed with it.”

“It’s more fury than anger that this proposal has raised, more so than any other local issue in all the 40 plus years that I’ve been involved in public life in Lewisham.”

Eastlondonlines will be liveblogging the ‘Save Lewisham A&E’ protest at midday this Saturday.

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