Archive for the ‘Save Lewisham Hospital’ Category
Greenwich & Woolwich MP has added his voice to the thousands who are backing the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency and maternity services.
He has opposed the plans to cut services put forward in the report by administrator Matthew Kershaw following the failure of the South London Healthcare Trust, fearing they will overwhelm Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.
Raynsford says: “The A&E at QEH is already running close to capacity, and reducing A&E services in South East London could seriously compromise patient safety and impose excessive pressures on QEH. Similar considerations apply to maternity services.
“I urge anyone in South London who is concerned about the future of our beloved health service to respond to the consultation process to make their views known. It is vital that we continue to keep strong public pressure on Matthew Kershaw and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to maintain high-quality NHS services throughout South East London. In the meantime, residents of Greenwich and Woolwich have my full assurance that this issue will remain a major focus of my attention over the coming weeks.”
It’s good to see him come out so firmly against the plans – hear more from him a couple of weeks back – it’s a shame that Greenwich Council is still publicly sitting on the fence, although it has registered its objections, preferring instead to bang the drum for polluting new roads. Priorities, eh?
The consultation closes on
Wednesday Thursday night – it’s not exactly a user-friendly piece of work, but it’s important as many people as possible speak up for services at Lewisham. You’ll find it here (“go to the online consultation form”). There’s a guide on the Save Lewisham Hospital website. It’ll only take 10 minutes – it could be your last chance to help preserve a decent NHS in south east London.
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.
Guest post: As well as the accident and emergency unit, Lewisham hospital’s maternity unit is also under threat from the Kershaw report into south-east London’s health services, which suggests that maternity services be carried out at Queen Elizabeth, Princess Royal, King’s College and St Thomas’s Hospitals, with Lewisham listed as only having a “potential” unit.
Erith & Thamesmead’s Labour MP Teresa Pearce criticised the plan last week at a meeting in Eltham. “Believe me, you don’t know how complex a birth can be until you’re in labour,” she said. Cuts at Lewisham would “have knock-on effects for all of us,” she added.
Clare Griffiths‘ son James, now five, was born at Lewisham. She takes up the story of how his life was saved by the staff there – and how being close to a maternity unit made caring for him much easier.
Lewisham hospital’s maternity unit handles around 4,400 deliveries a year, most of which (to use Matthew Kershaw’s language) are unremarkable. But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?
That’s what happened to me when I had my first child, James, at Lewisham hospital back in 2007.
I was 33 weeks pregnant when a bout of food poisoning brought on premature labour and I ended up on the maternity ward being given drugs to try and stop it.
They didn’t work, and James was scanned and found to be breech (feet down instead of head down), so I had to have an emergency caesarian section.
I also had an injection to try and mature James’s lungs a bit more, as at 33 weeks they aren’t necessarily mature enough to allow baby to breathe independently. These need 12 hours to work.
The team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit came to see me before I had the c-section to explain what was likely to happen – I would have my baby, then he would be taken away from me to be resuscitated if necessary and put in an incubator in the NICU. This was not to be a normal “unremarkable” experience.
James was born at 6:25am, only about 6 hours after having the injection – they’d had to move to do the c-section quicker than they’d hope because the drugs to slow down labour hadn’t worked and I was in danger of getting to second stage labour.
He actually cried straight away – the relief I felt at that point is hard to describe – which meant I got to hold him for a very short time before he was taken to NICU and put in an incubator.
I was taken to recovery and didn’t see him again until the following day. At this point he was out of the incubator and into the low dependency nursery A of the special care baby unit (SCBU).
I had to express breast milk for him, as he was being tube fed. Expressing works best if you can do it near to your baby, as it helps the milk to flow. Regular visits down to SCBU were therefore essential, and despite finding movement difficult because of the section, by the following afternoon I was able to walk (slowly) down there myself.
The day after that I was discharged to make room for other mothers and James stayed in SCBU. Fortunately Lewisham hospital is a short drive from our house, so although I wasn’t able to drive myself, I could be driven there with relative ease. There’s also two buses that go there from near to our house so getting there quickly on public transport is straightforward.
This was really important, as I needed to get there to express milk for him, not having an expensive breast pump of my own, and obviously I wanted to spend as much time with him as I possibly could, so was travelling there twice a day or more. I spent a lot of time crying as well – to say this was not what I’d imagined is a huge understatement.
Six days later we were able to bring James home. Suffice to say that they were six of the longest days of my life. I cannot imagine what any of that would have been like if Lewisham hospital hadn’t had a maternity unit.
I would have given birth at King’s, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Royal or perhaps even St Thomas’. When I had been discharged, my baby would have been miles away in an inaccessible hospital.
There is simply no way I would have been able to visit him as often as I did at Lewisham. This would have made a difficult time into an impossible one. It was heartbreaking enough to have to leave him knowing he was fairly nearby and I could visit often.
It would have been cruel to think that I would only have been able to get there perhaps once a day, bearing in mind that I’d also had major abdominal surgery to get James out, so moving around was painful and difficult. On top of that, expressing milk would also have been more difficult – I wouldn’t have been able to use the hospital’s industrial-grade pump, I’d have had to buy my own and if I couldn’t afford that then that would have been the end of breastfeeding full stop.
Breast milk is really important for premature babies, even more so than full-term ones, so that would have been worse for James’s health and development.
In the end, my story is a happy one, and I fully believe that having given birth at Lewisham was absolutely essential to that outcome.
We cannot stand by and let Jeremy Hunt and his cronies take our maternity unit away from us. We owe it to all those mothers who have yet to give birth there, and especially to those whose stories will turn out to be a little out of the ordinary.
Paediatric consultants have also responded to the report – see here to read their criticisms.
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 at 7pm.
It was no day for a demo. But they came from across south-east London. These placards greeted me when I jumped on a bus in Charlton.
When I arrived, twenty minutes before the march started, there were three or four hundred there.
When I left, twenty minutes after the march started, there were three or four thousand setting off down Lewisham High Street.
Thousands of marchers – hundreds of stories.
Organisers say 15,000 had joined the march by the time it reached Ladywell Fields.
I’m told Labour Party members were abused on the march – I got grief from a man for even talking to someone holding Greenwich Labour Party’s banner. It’s possibly a little unfair on the Lewisham councillors, mayor Steve Bullock and MP Heidi Alexander who have all endorsed this march. But memories of the Labour government’s PFI which created Queen Elizabeth Hospital, starting the process which led to this mess, linger long in this, a part of London which has little time for those who try it on.
The numbers on the march are as much a warning to the Labour party as much as the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Are any of them listening?
It was a night when the questions were better than the answers. About 30 demonstrators gathered to greet NHS administrator Matthew Kershaw when he arrived at Woolwich Town Hall on Thursday to take questions from a group of Greenwich councillors about his plans to revamp south-east London’s NHS, including the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E to an “urgent care centre”. He turned up late – stuck in traffic crossing Blackheath – and may have missed them.
I had hoped to be able to give you audio from the meeting, but unfortunately, the notorious acoustics in committee room 4/5 has defeated me – people rarely speak into microphone properly and the speakers in the public area are set at a whisper level. (Update: There is now audio, see the foot of this post.) But I can show you the video shown to the healthcare scrutiny panel before the meeting. Get ready to tick off the cliches.
There was half an hour given over to public questions – some were pertinent, some were time-wasting, like the woman from an organisation called Greenwich Link who rambled on about bringing back women-only hospitals. Well, thanks for that. Others voiced dissatisfaction with publicity and the consultation process – it appears the TSA website has had 12,500 unique visitors since it launched last month, which Kershaw’s team seemed pleased with, yet seems rather low to me (it’s probably about as much as this site gets).
Chair Janet Gillman, who happens to be one of my local councillors, asked if there was any chance the consultation would be extended – a call echoed by Bromley Council – but Kershaw indicated there wasn’t.
There were also concerns that the administrator hadn’t taken into account the rise in population in Greenwich borough, which weren’t fully allayed, while Kershaw claimed that local council leaders “fully understood the aspirations” of his report, which may be news to Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock.
When it was the councillors’ turn to ask questions, plenty did themselves proud. That said, Conservative Mandy Brinkhurst earned her additional cash for sitting on a scrutiny panel by asking no questions at all.
By contrast, Labour’s Danny Thorpe, Barbara Barwick and Clare Morris all expressed concern about the effects of the downgrading of Lewisham A&E on the already-overstretched Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Barbara Barwick was to the point, but Danny Thorpe put it best: “I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned transport – it’s appropriate you were late,” he told Kershaw. “It’s very difficult to believe your distance figures are true.”
But whatever the truth of the figures, Kershaw said everybody within south-east London would be within 30 minutes by blue-light of an accident and emergency department – which, apparently, is the London standard. “Care starts the minute an ambulance driver arrives,” he said, noting the improvements in the care paramedics can offer.
Thorpe also brought up the appointment of Lewisham Healthcare’s chief executive to work on a merger with QEH – before the consultation has even finished. Kershaw denied it was a “pre-emptive decision”. “We need to do planning now on the work done so far, and Tim Higginson has been asked to provide a work plan for the future.”
It was Barbara Barwick that started to really home in on the point. If someone turned up at Lewisham after suffering a heart attack, she said, what would happen to them?
Already, Kershaw said, people with heart attacks would be taken to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell or Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough – Lewisham had stopped specialising in heart attacks and strokes some time ago.
“The way emergency care is delivered in London now,” he continued, “people aren’t taken to the nearest hospital to get the best services.” He cited the case of Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton footballer who collapsed at Tottenham earlier this year but was taken to the London Chest Hospital at Bethnal Green, bypassing two closer hospitals (although I always thought that was at the behest of the doctor who happened to be watching the match and dashed onto the pitch at White Hart Lane.)
“It does mean some people will be carried further, but on balance we think that’s the right thing to do.”
Charlton councillor Allan MacCarthy reminded Kershaw of how slow the bus network is in south London. “I had a constituent who took a bus to an appointment at Lewisham Hospital, but never made it because the bus was stuck in traffic.” Kershaw waffled his way through a response.
It’s clear he has a job to do, within limited, politically-defined boundaries – one questioner asked why south-east London was suffering when the NHS in London as a whole enjoys a £250 million surplus.
But the reality of life as we know it in south-east London, with clogged up streets and slow journey times; together with how many people find Queen Elizabeth Hospital; overcrowded, understaffed, and in a mess, does not tally with the shiny promises in his report. There were pledges to reorganise the way QEH’s A&E is run, but they were short on detail.
It was suggested that when the A&E at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark closed in 1999, it only took a couple of months for people to adjust to using St Thomas’s in Lambeth. Yet the two hospitals are barely a couple of miles apart – nothing like the lengthy, bus-changing terrain that separates Lewisham and QEH (or King’s).
Indeed, even those who seem to be agreeing with the general thrust of his comments think that Kershaw isn’t arguing his case properly. Greenwich’s cabinet member for health, John Fahy, observed that few people seemed to know the difference between an “urgent care centre” and accident and emergency; indeed, it’s possible to argue that things won’t change a great deal for users of Lewisham Hospital.
But the focus on finance (which is what Kershaw is paid to do), together with the rushed consultation, means that the real experience of hospital users is neglected – and sparks suspicions about there being a more sinister endgame for users of Lewisham Hospital.
Backbench Labour councillors in Greenwich may be be sceptical about the plans, but regular readers of this site will know that nobody even breaks wind in the “royal” borough without the say-so of leader Chris Roberts. And it turns out we’ve been here before.
Roberts ally Mick Hayes referred to Greenwich’s support for the little-publicised A Picture of Health review from 2009, which was never fully implemented, but led to the closure of A&E at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup – leaving Bexley borough residents to have to go to QEH or distant Darenth Valley Hospital in Kent. Will Greenwich’s Labour leadership listen to its backbenchers’ concerns this time, or will it back the downgrading of a second neighbouring borough’s hospital? We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a different viewpoint from the meeting at Clare’s diary, and different sides to the argument at the TSA website and Save Lewisham Hospital. There are also public meetings, including tonight (organised by Greenwich Council) at Woolwich Town Hall.
(Tuesday 1am update: Brockley councillor Vicky Foxcroft reports the Labour group on Lewisham Council has donated £500 to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Will there be an equivalent donation from their comrades in Greenwich?)
Friday, 10pm update: Thanks to Clare, here’s the (very quiet) audio from last Thursday’s meeting.
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.
I was going to write a long and involved post about the threat to Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency department, which is threatened with being downgraded under the proposals to clear up the fallout from the South London Healthcare NHS Trust collapse.
But frankly, the NHS isn’t my strong point, and the effects of what’s going on should be bloody obvious.
Any threat to the NHS in Lewisham will affect the NHS on this side of the border too. Essentially, it’s proposed that Lewisham’s A&E is turned into a non-admitting urgent care centre, with all the burden shifted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, a hospital that’s difficult enough to get to if you live in Woolwich, never mind somewhere like Forest Hill.
Essentially, there’ll only be four fully-fledged accident and emergency units in the whole of south-east London if these plans get approved – King’s College in Camberwell, St Thomas’s in Lambeth, Princess Royal University Hospital in Bromley, and QEH. That’s not a lot of cover for an awfully huge number of people.
It’s also worth pointing out that the already-overloaded QEH currently has to deal with patients from Bexley, following the downgrading of Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup. It’s a total mess, and the people of south-east London are paying for the failures of successive governments to manage their NHS properly.
I was in Lewisham the other night and couldn’t help noticing Lewisham Healthcare, which is in line to take over QEH, had spent money on ads telling locals how great they were. Perhaps they’d be better off putting that money into running hospitals, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
Reaction in Greenwich has been pretty muted – hey, this is the borough that won’t even run a fireworks display with its neighbour – but in Lewisham, they’re apoplectic. Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander has set up an online petition, while she and mayor Sir Steve Bullock will be addressing a protest meeting on Thursday evening (6-8pm) at the hospital’s Lesoff Auditorium.
There’s also due to be a protest march on 24 November – more at savelewishamhospital.com. It’s going to be a big fight to save Lewisham’s A&E – but in Greenwich borough, it’s our fight as well as theirs – the importance of south-east London having a strong NHS that’s there for us is something that crosses borough boundaries. Actually, most normal people know this – but do our local politicians? We’ll find out in the coming weeks…
You may well have already seen the news that South London NHS Trust – which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich – is on the brink of collapse after being warned it faces dissolution by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley. With debts of £69m recorded in April, the government has warned an administrator could be brought in within weeks, which could see the trust split up and parcelled off to other healthcare providers – including private operators.
It’s the beginning of the end of a misconceived disaster which has cost taxpayers – directly and indirectly – countless millions of pounds. QEH opened in 2001, replacing the old Brook Hospital on Shooters Hill Road and Greenwich District Hospital. GDH was to stand empty for five years before being demolished, and then the site was left empty for a further six years, blighting the community it once served.
As another example of an indirect cost, the re-routing of buses to serve QEH, a former military hospital on Woolwich Common, costs Transport for London £1 million each year.
Under the Private Finance Initiative – introduced by John Major’s Conservatives and continued by Tony Blair’s Labour government – the building was refurbished, and remains maintained by a little-known private sector firm, Meridian Hospital Company, which receives payments from the NHS Trust. This year, MHC is due to get £66.8m under the deal, negotiated in July 1998.
The sums didn’t add up, though. By late 2005, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS trust was declared insolvent. The solution was to merge it with NHS trusts in Bexley and Bromley boroughs – the latter also struggling with PFI debt from the Princess Royal Hospital at Locks Bottom.
From the off, the new, debt-riddled South London NHS Trust struggled. Services at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup were cut back, with patients packed off into Kent. Finally, it seems the whole edifice has sunk. A merged Dartford-Medway NHS trust is already licking its lips and looking at services in Bexley. As for services in Bromley and Greenwich, they face an uncertain future.
An email sent to staff last night from South London NHS Trust chief executive Chris Streather reads:
We are very sorry that by the time that most of you will read this tomorrow morning, you will have heard media reports about the future of the Trust in the news. We were not told of this decision until late today (Monday) and there are certainly issues about the timing and appropriateness of telling staff before the media which we will be taking up.
In spite of the massive improvements in the quality of care – among the lowest mortality and infection rates now in England – it is true that the financial challenges facing the Trust remain significant. Our Trust, our Commissioners and the Department of Health are all in agreement that this needs to be tackled and in a way which is clear and ends uncertainty which I think has been unhelpful for a long time.
For this reason, we are now in discussions with the Department of Health and NHS London to look at the best way forward. One of those options could be the introduction of the Unsustainable Provider Regime, which would involve the appointment of a special administrator to manage the organisation and produce a report on the best way to deliver financially and clinically sustainable services to local patients.
We expect those discussions to come to a conclusion in the second week in July when a decision will be taken by the Secretary of State. In the meantime, I would like to assure you all that we are here to protect the services for patients, we have all fought hard to improve them and that is what we will continue to do.
A carefully handled intervention which maintains the improvements to safety and quality, while sorting out the long standing financial issues which have beset us and the S E London health sector may well be helpful.
Of course, PFI is a failure of our entire political class. Both Labour and Conservative are beholden to PFI, so nobody will call this out for the disaster that it is.
But I can’t help reflecting that this came a week after the Greenwich Labour Party launched a front campaign, The Greenwich People’s NHS Charter – despite their party’s government leaving our own local hospital in a perilously weak state, and facing the very real threat of private firms coming into pick up the pieces.
Nobody knows quite what will happen to the stricken, ill-conceived mess that is Queen Elizabeth Hospital. But there’s a few people, some enriched by these deals, others still holding public office, who owe its hard-working staff, patients, and the rest of us, an apology. Who’ll be big enough to step forward?
PS. I’m told one large organisation in this borough opposed the closure of Greenwich District Hospital and its relocation to Woolwich Common – Greenwich Council. See, not always wrong, you know.