The Future of Lewisham Hospital

I am very concerned by the Secretary of State for Health’s announcement on 31 January that Lewisham’s A&E is to be downgraded and that the full maternity service will be replaced by a midwife-led birthing unit.

I believe this announcement is tantamount to the closure of the A&E and am appalled by the way in which this decision has been presented.

Whilst a very small number of elderly patients, who need to be admitted for a short period of time, will still be able to treated at Lewisham, all other serious emergencies will have to be treated elsewhere.

As I understand it, the Intensive Care Unit at Lewisham will close and all but the lowest risk births will have to take place at other hospitals. At the moment, over 4000 babies are born each year at Lewisham. Under the proposals announced by the Secretary of State, this could reduce to just 400 births.

Despite spending £5.2M on the Special Administration process, the Secretary of State had to seek additional clinical advice from the NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh. Sir Bruce advised that Lewisham should have a “smaller A&E” and claims that 75% of patients currently treated at Lewisham will still be treated at the new unit. No evidence was provided to back up this claim.

It is also not clear whether the Government still plan to sell of two thirds of the land and buildings at Lewisham Hospital. I am currently pursuing this with parliamentary questions.

The fight to save Lewisham Hospital is therefore continuing. I know that Lewisham Council are considering the possibility of challenging the Secretary of State’s decision in the courts and I would support such action.

UPDATE: Lewisham Council  have now started the process to challenge the downgrade of Lewisham Hospital through the courts. A ‘pre-action’ letter has been sent to the Secretary of State and the Trust Special Administrator, giving Mr Hunt until the 22nd of February to withdraw his decision. If he doesn’t, then the Council will seek a judicial review of the decision.

I also understand the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign are planning to launch their own separate, but complementary, legal challenge against the decision.

It is clear that local residents, hospital staff and GPs do not support the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital. I support action which challenges these plans.

The Council have also set up a Legal Challenge Fund to enable people to financially contribute to the action. All money raised will go to offsetting legal costs. In the event that the donations are not required, the money will be donated to local charity Children First Lewisham.

You can donate here

Urging Mr Hunt to Save Lewisham Hospital

This is just a quick update on the meeting that took place yesterday between South London MPs and the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. In response to last week’s urgent question in the Commons by Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock, Mr Hunt offered to meet with MPs affected by the proposals to close the A&E and maternity department at Lewisham. He was true to his word and we had a long and heated meeting.

Much of the discussion focussed on Lewisham and concern was expressed by many of those present about the impact that these changes would have across South London. Closing the A&E and maternity is bad for Lewisham residents but also has serious implications for capacity at other hospitals. There is real doubt that the expensive changes planned at other hospitals to cope with this additional demand will deal with the flow of patients that will result from closing the A&E and maternity. Many of us spoke about how it is unfair that Lewisham – a solvent, successful hospital which is not part of the South London Healthcare Trust – has been dragged into this and we outlined why we think there are legal questions about the whole process and serious questions about the finances.

Whilst the Special Administrator to the South London Healthcare Trust did most of the talking, Mr Hunt seemed to be listening to the arguments on both sides. Only time will tell whether he has really taken on board what was said but he can be under no illusion about the anger and concern that exists about these proposals.

The 3 Lewisham MPs presented a paper to Mr Hunt outlining the case against closing the A&E and maternity at Lewisham. You can read the paper by clicking here. We have been repeatedly told by both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary that the Government’s own “tests” for major reconfigurations of health services would have to be met with regard to Lewisham. We detail in our paper why the proposal to close Lewisham’s A&E and maternity fails each of the four tests which the Government have said would apply.

The case against recommendation 5 (closure of A&E and maternity at Lewisham Hospital)

Government cuts are putting lives at risk

When I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East two years ago, I knew that things were going to be tough under a Tory-Lib Dem Government.

I suspected that decisions would be taken which would favour those at the top, whilst penalising those not so fortunate.

I feared that places like Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark would end up paying an unfair price as part of the Government’s attempts to deal with the deficit.

What I hadn’t anticipated was just how dangerous this Government would be.

In the last few months, this Government has launched an all-out attack on London’s emergency services.

Whether it’s their seeming determination to press ahead with the closure of Lewisham’s A&E, Boris Johnson’s plans to close 17 fire stations in London (including Downham, New Cross, Peckham, Southwark and Clapham) or the loss of 1700 police officers from London’s streets since 2010, it is clear that the lives and livelihoods of people in South London are being put at risk.

I feared the worst from this Government, but what I did not expect was a cavalier attitude to public safety. The cuts to our emergency services are unprecedented and unsustainable.

In a city of 7 million people, things will go wrong. Accidents will happen.  The riots in 2011 showed just how quickly things can get out of hand. And, as much as we might not like to think about it, London is a terrorist target.  We must have the capacity to respond.

The ability of the police and fire service to react quickly and effectively is imperative.

In the early stages, a fire doubles in size every minute.

When you phone the police because you’ve just witnessed a mugging, you want to know that they will come – not in a few hours time, but straight away.

There has to be capacity within our hospitals to deal with emergencies. People shouldn’t be kept waiting outside in ambulances. And they shouldn’t have to negotiate traffic jams on the South Circular to get to an A&E in the first place.

But this Government seems determined to take us back in time. They want to close the A&E in Lewisham. They want to close fire stations and they want to replace police stations with some sort of drop-in kiosk at the local supermarket.

Lewisham alone has lost 64 police officers and 48 PCSOs in the last two years. We have been told that Sydenham Police Station faces closure and that police stations in Catford and Deptford, two areas not without their problems, have been earmarked for reduced opening hours.

This is nothing short of reckless and it has to stop.  Our emergency services are vital in a city like London. They are a matter of life and death and the Government would do well to realise it.

This article was originally written for the South London Press  (published on 11th Jan 2013)