Demonstrators are planning to picket Woolwich Town Hall on Thursday evening as the NHS administrator recommending downgrading Lewisham Hospital’s A&E arrives to takes questions from a panel of Greenwich councillors.
Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw will talk to Greenwich’s eight-member healthier communities scrutiny panel about his plans to deal with the collapse of the South London Healthcare Trust, which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.
He recommends that QEH is taken over by Lewisham Healthcare Trust – but that Lewisham Hospital’s A&E is restricted to “urgent care for those who do not need to be admitted to hospital”.
Indeed, never mind consulting the public, the boss of Lewisham Healthcare has already been put in place to take over South London Healthcare.
Campaigners have already had the backing of Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock, who has branded the proposals “staggering” and has pledged to throw the resources of Lewisham Council into fighting the report.
But what of Sir Steve’s Labour colleagues in Greenwich? Despite the obvious effects on the already-overloaded QEH of the plans for Lewisham, Greenwich Council has so far been coy about the plans. Health cabinet member John Fahy told a council meeting two weeks ago that the report was “better than expected but with serious negatives”, and the council has pressed for further public meetings (which, to its credit, it has got – see below).
But that’s been it. Two anodyne stories have appeared in its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time to promote the report and public meetings, but with no mention of what the council thinks, despite the paper existing to do just that. (Remember: “Greenwich Time represents the views that come from the decision makers at Greenwich Council,” according to its PR chief.)
There’s also a short summary on the council website, which doesn’t mention the Lewisham proposal, and a non-committal quote from leader Chris Roberts: “We will study its recommendations for healthcare in Greenwich before responding accordingly.”
Greenwich councillors won’t even be discussing the proposals at a full meeting before the consultation closes on 13 December; while Lewisham’s will be meeting on 28 November.
It’s a sharp contrast from Sir Steve Bullock’s damnation of the plan as “complete nonsense“, and Lewisham councillor Liam Curran declaring the government “must not be allowed to divide the people of Lewisham and Greenwich”. After all, Greenwich Council seems to be doing the job well enough on its own.
As for Thursday night’s meeting, the clash between a council uncomfortable with being scrutinised and a group of highly-motivated protesters looks set to be a troubled one.
But with campaigners feeling the closure proposals are a done deal, there may be clues towards whether Greenwich Council will line up alongside their Labour colleagues in Lewisham, or whether they’re content to join Bexley Council in siding with Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
A consultation’s under way on the proposals – read more on the Trust Special Administrator‘s website (and Save Lewisham Hospital) and there’s a series of public meetings too – most of which, however, have been scheduled for when most people are at work. The first one, on Tuesday at West Greenwich House, had only around 50 people there.
In fact, it’s worth questioning how seriously the TSA is taking the consultation, with two public meetings in Greenwich borough not listed on its website. While information about the proposals should be displayed in all surgeries and pharmacies in the area, the photo above shows all I could find at Sainsbury’s pharmacy counter in Greenwich on Wednesday evening, behind a sales display in a staff area.
Evening meetings include: Woolwich Town Hall on Monday 19 November (not listed on TSA website), St Mary’s Community Centre in Eltham on Monday 26 November (not listed on TSA website), Charlton Athletic FC on Monday 3 December and and the Calabash Day Centre in Lewisham on Tuesday 4 December (all 7pm).
Update 2.50pm Lewisham Council has now come out against the proposal on its website.