I ask you, can one small district general hospital save the NHS?
The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign are hoping so and this week is going to be a crucial one for us south east Londoners. That's right folks, we've taken our fight to the High Court.
A year ago South London Healthcare Trust was put into administration by Jeremy Hunt. A Trust Special Administrator was put in post and tasked with a seemingly impossible job: sort out the ailing finances of a Trust burdened with a monstrous PFI contract.
It's a fact universally acknowledged for those in south London that SLHT has been doomed for years, there have been several unsuccessful plans to rescue it, so no one was particularly surprised when the government put it into administration. The shock came a few months later, in October, when Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, announced that the debts of SLHT were too gigantic and complex to be solved within the bounds of the Trust alone and that he would look at neighbouring Trusts to help shoulder the burden. Suddenly the coffers of Lewisham Hospital looked quite appealing.
Matthew Kershaw clearly thought it wasn't impossible to appropriate some of Lewisham's capital and real estate in his attempt to balance the books. Never mind that the piece of legislation he was using at the time (The Regime for Unsustainable Providers) specifically states that it cannot be used outside the Trust or for service reorganisation.
I shan't go on about the highs and lows of the campaign first to challenge the bizarre misuse of The Regime for Unsustainable Providers and then to exhort Jeremy Hunt MP to recognise the illegality of Kershaw harvesting the vital organs of Lewisham Hospital’s actute services and obstetric-led maternity care.
As you know from our previous forays into the wonderful world of publicity, we like a bit of style in Lewisham. Boris Johnson won't forget his red carpet treatment in February and I am sure I saw the curtains twitch at the Department of Health when Lewisham's Buggy Army descended en masse for a true Valentine's celebration.
So, can you blame us for attempting to make history once again?
This time we've brought in the big guns. Michael Mansfield QC and his special force of barristers from Tooks Chambers joined us for a trail-blazing run at the iniquities of this government's onslaught on the NHS. Allyson Pollock, Colin Leys and Lord Owen all spoke in defence of our precious local hospital and to paint the greater picture of the need to save the NHS from marketisation and privatisation.
Over the course of one day we heard from 25 witnesses giving evidence in a People's Commission chaired by Michael Mansfield and supported by Baroness Warnock and Blake Morrison as fellow judges. The evidence was given by doctors, nurses, patients, carers, the CEO of Lewisham Hospital and yours truly in my role as Chair of Lewisham Maternity Service Liaison Committee. In one voice we argued the case against the Trust Special Administrator and against the destruction of the NHS. It was an amazing example of People Power. I am proud to have been part of it.
Today two judicial reviews started their hearings at the High Court. By Friday we'll know the fate of our hospital.
If Lewisham Hospital is downgraded no hospital in the United Kingdom will be safe so be on your guard; watch out! The Regime for Unsustainable Providers could be coming to a hospital near you so support our campaign at the High Court before it's too late.
I'll leave you with the words of Aneurin Bevan's leaflet to launch the NHS 65 years ago
Your new National Health Service starts on the 5th July. What is it? How do you get it?
It will provide you with all medical, dental, and nursing care. Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a “charity”. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness. (National Health Service Leaflet 1948)