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?
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…