Lewisham Hospital: Will the real Labour Party please stand up?
I went along to a public meeting in Eltham last week, and heard the area’s Labour MP Clive Efford absolutely tear into the plans to close the A&E at Lewisham Hospital. He spoke passionately about his wife’s experiences dealing with the private Blackheath Hospital, before turning his attention to what happened at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup when its A&E was under threat.
What happened at Sidcup A&E – it closed because the doctors wouldn’t work there. It had the sword of Damocles hanging over it – when jobs were advertised elsewhere, the doctors took them and no other doctors came in. So when they closed the A&E, they closed it because there were no flipping doctors there!
And that is what is going to happen at Lewisham. It’s got the sword of Damocles hanging over it, just like Sidcup, and it’ll die a death of a thousand cuts even if a decision is made to save it, it’ll probably have gone already. That’s what happens in the NHS, the doctors now know there’s a doubt about the future, and they’ll vote with their feet. And we will lose that A&E, the longer this decision goes on.
My view is – remove it from the proposals now. No closure of Lewisham A&E.
You can hear Clive Efford in full, below. (Audioboo)
You can also hear Erith & Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce, who also roundly condemned the proposals, adding the proposal for Lewisham had “knock-on effects for all of us”. “This report is looking to patch up a discredited market model,” she said. Here she is summing up at the end. (Audioboo)
Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford was a little more equivocal – I don’t think he actually mentioned Lewisham Hospital specifically, but he said the proposals were “too risky”. As for having just four A&Es in south-east London, he said it was “an assumption that needs to be questioned – I think there’s real worry about it”.
Here’s Nick Raynsford on the organisational aspects of the review. (Audioboo)
Nick Raynsford on A&Es and maternity services at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. (Audioboo)
Here’s Nick Raynsford summing up. (Audioboo)
Matthew Kershaw was heckled when he tried, once again, to use the Fabrice Muamba case as an example of how NHS emergency care works these days (the Bolton footballer was taken to the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green after suffering a heart attack at Tottenham, rather than a hospital closer to N17). (Audioboo)
Here’s Matthew Kershaw on private firms and the PFIs which have helped cripple South London Healthcare (Audioboo)
Listening to Efford and Pearce tear into Kershaw’s proposal, you’d walk away content and under the impression that the local Labour parties are utterly opposed to Kershaw’s plans. Indeed, the meeting was organised by We Love The NHS, which is closely associated with the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party.
But the truth is anything but. And for those affected by the planned upheavals in south east London’s NHS – and that’s all of us, not just those in a borough with blue bins – the country’s opposition party and the dominant party in this part of the world is letting us down.
This isn’t a party political finger-jabbing – for if the Labour Party can’t get its act together on fighting for Lewisham Hospital, then it may as well just sign up to the coalition’s policies on health. If one part of the Labour Party is doing one thing, and another is doing something else, then why should we listen to or trust it?
Obviously, the party’s in a difficult situation, as the roots of the South London Healthcare fiasco lie in the Labour Government’s decision to impose a PFI on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital over a decade ago. Labour’s fingerprints are all over 31% of the trust’s debt. However, this can be a time to wipe the slate clean. But even now, there are those in the party who’ll defend that PFI, despite the crippling debts it brought about. This, though, is the last of its problems.
We know parties are broad coalitions, and it’s no secret there are some in the Labour Party whose views on the NHS are similar to the coalition’s. But the London Labour Party’s fully behind the Lewisham A&E campaign and has a firm line on this. It’s just launched a 999 SOS campaign, highlighting the threats to the NHS in London, as well as police and fire services. Cue lots of Labour politicians slapping themselves heartily on the back.
Lewisham’s completely behind it, proudly boasting that all of its councillors are fully behind the hospital campaign. Borough MPs Joan Ruddock, Heidi Alexander and Jim Dowd have spoken out. Indeed, Lewisham Council has thrown resources into backing the campaign, demanding an extension to the consultation and putting adverts up across the borough and using its Lewisham Life magazine to push the cause.
In west London, there’s a serious threat to local A&Es there, too. Ealing Council’s launched a Save Our Hospitals campaign to demand that not just Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals are protected, but so are Charing Cross and Hammersmith, which lie outside its area.
So, we can see examples of local Labour parties and Labour councils working not just to protect what lies within their borders, but what lies outside, too.
But not all London Labour councils are as signed up to the 999 SOS campaign as you’d expect. Yes, you guessed it, once again, Greenwich is dragging its feet at the back of the pack.
It’s not that Greenwich hasn’t done anything – it’s actually done some good work in organising extra public meetings. But while other councils are campaigning, Greenwich is keeping its mouth shut and its options open. A joint campaign between the two councils would have done wonders – but instead, it seems Greenwich is focusing more on its own hospital, Queen Elizabeth, and not worrying about the other.
Indeed, while none will go on the record as saying so, there are Greenwich councillors who see nothing wrong with the threat to Lewisham’s A&E – perhaps that Kershaw’s plans are a little too hasty, and that other NHS reforms should be given a chance to kick in first.
What we do know is that health cabinet member John Fahy has called the plans “better than expected but with some serious negatives”, and has said “changes need to happen” without elaborating much further.
News of the consultation has fallen off the front of Greenwich Council’s website, and as for leader Chris Roberts, he has only given a bland statement urging residents to take part in the process – not a million miles from the line put out by Lewisham Conservatives.
Is the Greenwich Labour party campaigning to save emergency services, or not? We know that many in the local party are unhappy. Sceptical councillors did a good job of cross-examining Kershaw last month, and a handful paraded with a party banner through Lewisham last weekend (others, apparently, had decided to campaign in the Croydon North by-election instead).
But even its We Love The NHS campaign has been silent on the Lewisham issue, despite organising the Eltham meeting mentioned above. Is Greenwich somehow exempt from campaigning for its neighbouring borough?
“[It's] vital we do not let the Government divide the people of Lewisham and Greenwich by pitting one hospital against another,” tweeted Lewisham councillor Liam Curran a couple of weeks back. But unfortunately for the Sydenham representative, and the rest of us, his party colleagues may have fallen into that trap already.
It’s possible we may see Greenwich’s response start to emerge this week. “If we don’t fight to save emergency services, who will?”, asked Labour assembly member Fiona Twycross recently. Within days, we may find out if her party colleagues in Greenwich have got the message.
Update 2.50pm: This week’s new edition of Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time does, indeed, launch a new campaign… but on river crossings.
For more on the consultation, which ends on 13 December, see the TSA website. For more on the campaign to protect Lewisham’s hospital services, see Save Lewisham Hospital. There’s a consultation meeting at The Valley in Charlton on Monday (TONIGHT) at 7pm.