Julie Sherry reports from the campaign to defend Lewisham hospital which is threatened with closures
Around 800 people turned out for a public meeting in Lewisham hospital on Thursday of last week as the campaign against closures there gets off the ground.
The south east London hospital could lose its A&E, maternity services, children’s wards, emergency surgery and more besides after the government forced the local health trust into administration. It is one of up to 20 hospitals that could soon face this attack (see below).
The huge, angry meeting filled three rooms and the corridors outside. It included hundreds of health workers.
One midwife summed up the situation, saying, “If we don’t stop them, they’ll do it across the country.” All 30,000 leaflets for a local demonstration against the cuts on 24 November were snatched up.
While medical services are being shut down, the Tories are promising to bail out the companies whose Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes have pushed the trust into the red.
Anita, a nurse at the hospital, waved the trust administrators’ hated report in her hand as she spoke. “It talks about the trust overspending by £65 million,” she said.
“Then it explains how £69 million is spent on the PFI every year! It’s clear to see where the overspend has come from—it’s entirely the PFI.”
The Lewisham meeting showed the potential for a serious fightback against the closures. It was built by health workers at the trust and supported by hospital unions BMA and Unite, with a Unison rep joining the platform.
Local Labour councillors, Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock and local Labour MP Heidi Alexander spoke out against the plans.
Dan, who works as a nurse in the threatened A&E, talked to Socialist Worker. “My biggest fear is that it’ll be the people with the most life threatening conditions who will be the ones we have to turn away,” he said.
“I’d have to say, I’m sorry, you’re too sick for this hospital. That disgusts me as a nurse. We need as many people, staff and the community, on the march on 24 November. And if this fails, we’ll be considering other options—maybe a mass die in out in the car park, maybe strikes.”
A midwife added, “Trusts across Britain are in the same situation. This is the first time they’re using this procedure, and it is a model.”
The health service has been saddled with huge debts by Private Finance initiatives (PFI). This is when a private firm builds a hospital then leases it back to the NHS, usually for 30 years.
PFI was introduced by the Tories in the 1990s and expanded by Labour. There are now more than 100 PFI schemes in the NHS. Despite the escalating debts, more have been signed off since the start of the coalition government in 2010.
The cost of building through PFI is far higher than if the government were just to take out a mortgage in the normal way.
New research by John Lister has exposed the cost of three major PFI hospital projects in Norfolk, Peterborough and Chelmsford that should have cost £642 million. Thanks to PFI the final costs in 2043 will be at least £4.25 billion.
This will amount to over 20 percent of the budget at the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust. It now has only enough money to pay its bills until the end of November.
Lewisham hospital is the first to be hit by proposals from the government’s new “special health administration” regime. The Tories’ £20 billion of NHS cuts is piling the pressure on trusts that are already saddled with large PFI debts.
But their NHS reforms mean these “failing” trusts can’t be bailed out. Instead trusts in financial trouble are put into administration.
Up to 20 more hospitals are expected to face this soon. The administrator can propose that services should be closed or privatised.
The government could use this as a tool to privatise parts of the NHS while blaming the trusts themselves for going bust. But in fact it will be the cuts and PFI that did it. And as these continue, it will just lead to less money and fewer staff to treat sick people.
Demonstrate to save Lewisham hospital, Saturday 24 November. Assemble 2pm at Loampit Vale roundabout, London SE13