There’ll be a few sore heads around Lewisham this morning after the government’s plans to downgrade the accident and emergency department at Lewisham Hospital were quashed by the High Court. While Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Health has been given leave to appeal, even this brief pause in the battle is one that’s worth celebrating. It’s a richly-deserved victory for the Save Lewisham A&E campaign and Lewisham Council, and any south-east Londoner that’s given time or money to help the campaign.
The threat to the well-run Lewisham Hospital came solely because of the disastrous financial arrangements imposed on other hospitals in south-east London, including Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, run by the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. The court’s declared that Lewisham shouldn’t suffer because of the misfortunes of other hospitals, but what will happen from October is that QEH will be taken under the wing of Lewisham Hospital’s trust. Hopefully, both the Lewisham and Woolwich hospitals will be able to keep their A&Es, but QEH will be able to improve under the skilled management of the Lewisham team.
With the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition threatening to close the neighbouring borough’s A&E, heaping pressure onto QEH, how did Greenwich borough’s Labour politicians react? Not very well. When the plans to save the stricken SLHT, including shutting Lewisham A&E, were announced at the end of October, Greenwich Council’s public health cabinet member John Fahy declared they were “better than expected but with serious negatives”. I wrote about this in November, and it’s worth reading the comments too.
Did any of Greenwich’s 40 Labour councillors propose any motion to express the council’s disapproval of the government’s plan to shut the neighbouring A&E? No. To be fair, Greenwich eventually submitted a written response pointing out the closure was wrong, but politically, Greenwich’s Labour leadership didn’t lift a finger in the council chamber. Out of sight of the leader Chris Roberts, backbench councillors asked searching questions at a meeting with the ill-fated NHS adminstrator. But none of them proposed a motion to object, and the leadership kept their mouths shut and their options open. I wrote about this in December.
Until yesterday. Greenwich’s Tory councillors, who can look like dangerous lefties compared with the Labour leadership, proposed a motion suggesting Greenwich uses some of the cash it now gets for public health to fund a clinic to ease the pressure on QEH’s A&E. Not the dumbest idea you’ll read, and an attempt to address an issue. (The motion’s item 15 at the foot of this page.)
The response of Greenwich Labour’s leadership was to propose a completely new motion condemning the government for proposing the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, and expressing relief at the court ruling.
Which would have been fine… had any of Greenwich’s Labour councillors been bothered enough to put together such a motion when Lewisham Hospital was really under threat. But they didn’t.
When there was an excuse to bash the local Tories, suddenly, they found their campaigning zeal to do what they were told to do.
There’s a London-wide Labour party campaign on emergency services cutbacks. But in Greenwich Council’s chamber, the Labour party seems exempt from this – unless there’s a bandwagon to be belatedly leapt upon.
PS. Among a load of other unedifying scenes at Wednesday’s council meeting, independent councillor Eileen Glover, who is partially-sighted, was not given large-print copies of amendments to council motions, so she ended up being unable to vote on them. She protested to mayor Angela Cornforth, but was turned down. Neither her former Tory colleagues nor her Labour counterparts seemed interested in helping her, so she sat alone, unable to take part in the votes. That’s got to be illegal, hasn’t it?