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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Save Lewisham hospital’s A and E, could be your hospital next!

Last Saturday saw one of the biggest local demonstrations in south London in protest to save the local A and E at Lewisham which is threatened with closure. Over 25 thousand marched on the day and from what I’ve gathered was a tremendous atmosphere with young and old on the demo. This was a real community demo. The scale of support for the campaign was shown by the presence of the local football team Millwall's bus at the closing rally. Such was size of the march that it had to move off about half an hour early so that everyone could join. Despite it causing traffic to come to a standstill, many drivers tooted their support for the protest. Among the many union banners were the National Shop Stewards Network and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. This was the second demo organised against recommendations in a paper authored by Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw who was commissioned by the Con-Dem government to do a hatchet job on NHS services in South London. It was in anticipation of 1 February when Kershaw will submit his plans to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for rubber-stamping. Petitions, letters and marches have been organised, but these alone will not save Lewisham Hospital. Today we hear that the A and E services at Lewisham are to be down graded. The A&E department at Lewisham hospital in south-east London is to be downgraded and made smaller as part of cost-cutting measures. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also said the maternity unit at Lewisham would be replaced with a midwife-led facility. The cuts aim to help tackle debts of £150m at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust Jos Bell, a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, called the announcement "a complete travesty". She rejected Mr Hunt's estimate that journey times to other Ages in the area would only take one minute longer. Ms Bell, who collapsed with heart and respiratory failure in 2006, added: "I'm only alive because Lewisham is where it is." Lewisham's mayor, Steve Bullock, said: "The secretary of state is riding roughshod over the people of Lewisham. This is not the end of the matter. "I do not believe that the Trust Special Administrator had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the secretary of state therefore has no power to implement them. "I will be talking to our lawyers and we will also of course need to talk to our colleagues at Lewisham Hospital in order to fully understand the implications of Mr Hunt's statement." SO on the demo given all this Socialist Party members on the demo raised the idea that our strategy must be based on the health trade unions and pressure on them to ballot their members for strike action to save the NHS, solidly backed by the community. A workers' occupation of Lewisham Hospital could be organised to stop equipment being removed and facilities run down. Over 2,500 Socialist Party leaflets calling for strike action to defend Lewisham A&E were taken by demonstrators. This attempt to attack jobs and services at Lewisham Hospital is not the first. During 2006 the then Labour government proposed the closure of A&E, maternity and paediatric services. Socialist Party former councillors Chris Flood and Ian Page launched a petition opposing the attacks to build up pressure on MPs and councillors. Chris Flood proposed a motion to the council for 'referring back' Labour's outrageous plans. Although Labour and Lib Dem councillors opposed this, pressure eventually forced the government to back down and the hospital was saved then. What’s clear is this is just the start and the battle to save Lewisham A and E will need a serious fightback including the workers if it is to succeed. Labours opportunist role in this has not gone unnoticed either their last governments role in PFI schemes up and down the country has been raised time after time in this campaign The hypocrisy must be exposed having Tories march on demo’s to save their local NHS when the national government is ripping it apart is a disgrace. But now this time round it are Labour councillors and MPs who are giving lip service to the campaign to oppose the closures, while at the same time pushing through £28 million of council cuts to jobs and services over the next three years. They are doing the Con-Dems' dirty work. Recognising the links between all the cuts to jobs and public services, one street cleaner clearing up after the demo proudly displayed a Socialist Party Save our NHS placard in his cart. At the end of the march, demonstrators were queuing up to sign the Socialist Party petition in defence of NHS services in south London. They recognised that we need to save all NHS services and not allow the campaign to be just about defending Lewisham A&E at the expense of other NHS services in south London. With thanks to Susanna Farley and Chris Newby For extracts from the socialist this week which can be read at http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/750/16046/30-01-2013/nhs-workers-resist-cuts

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