Thursday, 13 December 2012

The MSLC lay members contact the local and national press

Dear local and national press,

My name is Jessica Ormerod, I am the lay chair of Lewisham Hospital's maternity committee. I hope that you might be interested in a story about the proposed closures at Lewisham Hospital.

I was invited by Lewisham Hospital to attend a meeting convened by Matthew Kershaw (Trust Special Administrator for South London Healthcare Trust) and his team. Matthew Kershaw himself wasn't at the meeting, billed as the TSA Maternity Services Workshop. However, when I arrived, the convenors (who appear to be headed by a woman called Penny Dash who works for Mckinsey's) recoiled from me in horror. I do not use these words lightly. I was greeted – very rudely – and asked what I was doing at the meeting, then told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome even to enter the room. This somewhat embarrassing exchange was conducted in the corridor while others were attempting to sign into the meeting. The inauspicious welcome was succeeded by barely veiled requests for me to leave. Even my colleagues were drawn to one side to request my departure.

Naturally, I didn't leave, as I was intrigued as to why the organisers should be so keen to get rid of me. In the end, I was 'allowed' to stay on the proviso that I didn't speak throughout the meeting.

It rapidly became clear why I wasn't welcome as the other meeting attendees, all of whom were extremely senior medical professionals and hospital managers from GSTT, Kings, Lewisham, Bromley and Greenwich, were unanimous in their rejection of the proposal to shut down the very successful (and recently refurbished) A&E department and maternity service at Lewisham Hospital. The doctors, midwives, managers and commissioners all agreed that option 1 (to close maternity and A&E all together) would be seriously dangerous as there is not the capacity to incorporate the numbers of women at GSTT and Kings, which are the hospitals who will in reality – given the appalling public transport links as well as the alarming infection rates of Queen Elizabeth Hospital – have to deal with Lewisham residents.

It is deeply worrying that women should be forced to use any hospital they don't want to, but it is little short of monstrous to leave them with no access to A&E or proper maternity provision , unless they travel many, many miles from their homes. This is an area with high rates of poverty – 50% of Lewisham residents don't own a car. Are women in labour expected to get a bus? These are not families who are likely to call taxis! It will be Lambeth and Southwark's ambulance services that will pick up the tab.

The key point is that everyone at the meeting was passionately in agreement that the numbers used by the TSA are completely wrong and that should option 1 actually happen it would be horrendous for women and much, much more expensive for the tax payer: GSTT and Kings would not only have to find physical space which they don't have, but also they would need to employ double rotas in order to service the increased capacity.

The consultation process has been laughable. The TSA held two focus groups for women who are currently pregnant or have given birth within the last four months. The question that was posed to them was: what level of risk would you feel happy with in order to give birth at Lewisham. What?! An extraordinary way to gather women's views. The focus groups were arranged with less than a week's notice, they didn't provide childcare, they were not reflective of the diverse ethnic and social community of Lewisham. And no wonder because they relied on contacting the local NCT group (who contacted me, as lay chair of the MSLC) to fill their quotas. How anyone can describe this as a consultation is beyond me. Quite clearly, Matthew Kershaw and his team do not feel it necessary to find the time or energy to seek the views of the women whose lives will be thrown into upheaval and who will be subjected to real risk should their recommendations come to reality.
I hope that you will be able to help me to get a more open debate about these very unwelcome proposals. The fact the TSA team were so unwilling to include the lay chair in a ‘workshop’ on Maternity Services speaks for itself – clearly the real determination was to close the discussion down. 

Yours sincerely,
Jessica Ormerod
Lay Chair Lewisham MSLC

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