25,000 march to save Lewisham Hospital

by New Worker Correspondent

THERE were hundreds of children in buggies, many with placards proclaiming they were born at Lewisham maternity unit. There were thousands of pensioners — some had lived in Lewisham all their lives, others were from the West Indies, Ireland, Africa and all parts of Asia — united together they were a truly formidable force, as they marched through the shopping centre and past the hospital.

There were Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Hindus, pagans and atheists — all united.

And there were football fans. Millwall FC rescheduled an FA Cup fourth round game so fans could go on the march and the Milwall bus came along with their lion mascot. There were also Charlton and Crystal Palace fans, who carried placards saluting Millwall for its support for the campaign.

The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign had made thousands of placards with a blank space at the top for supporters to fill in who they were, saying “save Lewisham Hospital”. So we knew we were marching alongside: “Sydenham Society”, “Frying Squad SE13”, “Pepys Resource Centre”, Speedicabs SE4”, “Suits-U Bespoke Dry Cleaners”, “Rise and Shine after school club”, “Lewisham and Southwark College”, “The Surgery, Belmont Hill” — and so on, thousands of them.

There were several placards declaring their carrier owed his /her life or their child’s life to Lewisham A&E.

Speakers in Mountsfield Park at the end of the march included local Labour MPs Heidi Alexander and Joan Ruddock, Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union, Dr Louise Irvine, a local GP, who chairs the Save Lewisham Hospital. Surprisingly Nick Ferrari — the right-wing radio DJ was also a speaker.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will decide this week on whether to implement the proposals of Matthew Kershaw, the special administrator brought in to resolve the problems of the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT), which has been bankrupted by PFI deals, to close Lewisham A&E and maternity and transfer resources to SLHT.

This would leave 750,000 people in south east London with just one A&E unit — at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Woolwich Common, which is already struggling to cope with an overload of patients.

Dr Louise Irvine said: “This decision is crazy and ill-thought-out. It is a big mistake and carries huge clinical risks of things going wrong for patients but also political risk.

“If Jeremy Hunt can close a good local hospital here, he can do it anywhere in the country — nowhere is safe.

“This is very much a national issue; there are 60 hospital trusts across the country under threat of bankruptcy, many of them very good hospitals.

“We are saying ‘look at Lewisham, if we can win then you can win’. And even if we lose, we will keep on fighting, that is the most important thing.”

Aneurin Bevan said the NHS would last as long as people are ready to fight for it. It would seem the people are ready and are fighting — more people than jaded old lefties could imagine.

And it seems that other NHS defence campaigns around the country are being encouraged by what is going on in Lewisham. Jeremy Hunt cannot pretend he has not heard this protest, or that the whole people of Lewisham reject Kershaw’s plan emphatically. The Con Dem Coalition ignores a growing NHS defence movement like this at its peril.