Friday, November 23, 2012

Save Lewisham Hospital: now is the time

Tomorrow is an important day in SE London with a demonstration at Lewisham Hospital to save its Accident and Emergency Department, as well as threatened maternity services. Never mind if you're the kind of person who doesn't go on demonstrations, never mind if you're cynical about whether it will have any effect, never mind if it's cold - you need to be there if you want Lewisham to continue to have a fully functioning hospital!

The Special Administrator's draft report into the future of South London Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS in SE London  was published at the end of last month, and it was immediately apparent that there was a serious threat of Lewisham A&E being closed down in order to bolster the financial position of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, where Lewisham residents would be expected to travel for A&E instead.

As covered here before this would lead to longer journey times to Emergency Care for many people, and therefore a delay in accessing potentially life saving treatment. The journey time between the two hospitals is estimated by AA Route Planner at 22 minutes assuming normal traffic; Transport for London's journey planner suggests that the quickest public transport journey from Lewisham Hospital to Queen Elizabeth Hospital takes around 50 minutes during the day, including a 15 minute walk at the Woolwich end from the 54 bus stop.

Since then other aspects of this plan have become apparent. Firstly it is not just Accident and Emergency that is under threat at Lewisham. Closing it would have an impact on other parts of the hospital. For instance without Emergency Care on site, could Lewisham continue to deliver maternity services? Currently Lewisham handles around 4,400 births a year (see discussion at Clare's Diary).

The hospital's intensive care unit is also under threat. BBC reports that 'Seven consultants at Lewisham hospital have raised fears about the future of its intensive care unit. They say planned changes for the now dissolved South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) would result in its closure. Several critical care beds in south-east London have been recommended for closure by the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) Matthew Kershaw... The seven consultants said the changes would "disproportionately hit critically ill patients from the most deprived areas of south-east London... Following implementation of your recommendations we fear that the residents of Lewisham will be forced to bear the brunt of this risk and have to travel to receive intensive care treatment possibly outside south-east London...All the hard work over many years of continuous improvement and dedication to helping the sickest patients in the borough of Lewisham will be destroyed".

It is also clear that there will be a negative impact on health services for people near to Queen Elizabeth Hospital too. How is its A&E going to cope with the increase in traffic from Lewisham? As Lucy Mangan argues in the Guardian, it is ludicrous to pretend  'that leaving one A&E department to service the 750,000 citizens of three boroughs wouldn't ultimately end in disaster in both human and economic terms'.

We should avoid the temptation to play Lewisham Hospital off against Queen Elizabeth, or to say 'make the cuts there instead of here'. The financial crisis at Queen Elizabeth is a result of a political decision to break up the health service into separate competing enterprises, and of the debts incurred through another political decision: to mortgage the future of the health service to private companies through the Private Finance Initiative scheme. The debts could be cancelled or paid off tomorrow by another political decision, so that doctors, nurses and other health workers can get on with providing the full range of healthcare at Lewisham and Queen Elizabeth for South East London.

Already around 700 people have turned out to a public meeting at Lewisham Hospital to oppose the plans (on November 8th). So many people turned up that overflow rooms had to be set up (see report by Andy Worthington). If everybody who went to that meeting brings five friends to the demonstration it could be one of the biggest protests seen locally for many years. Meet at 2 pm opposite Lewisham station for march to Ladywell Fields, join hands around hospital at 3 pm. Further information from Save Lewisham Hospital and Lewisham Keep Our NHS Public. There's also a follow up public meeting on 28th November, 7 pm at Catford Broadway Theatre.


PaulW said...

The Kershaw report suggests that about 77% of people who currently attend the Lewisham A&E would be treated at the proposed urgent care centre there. That would suggest that anyone who is able to get to hospital by public transport would still be seen at Lewisham

You've a good case, try not to exaggerate it.

Deptford Pudding said...

Why should we believe the Kershaw Report? The Report is angled towards the outcome Kershaw wants. Indeed the wording implies that the downgrading of Lewisham's status is a forgone conclusion, and therefore the consultation is merely smoke and mirrors. I'll be there tomorrow, my first demo since the 1977 Battle of Lewisham.

. said...

@Paul KW - as I said in my original post on this, even if the 77% figure is correct it ignores the reality of triage in A&E. Many people who require care wouldn't know whether their problem can be treated at Lewisham urgent care or whether they need emergency care which wouldn't be available there. So some people would make their way to Lewisham only to find that the treatment they require can't be provided there; others would go to QE Hospital when in fact they could have been treated in Lewisaham. Putting people in a position where they have to make these judgements themselves is itself putting people at risk compared with the current position of get down to your local A&E and a trained professional will make sure you get the care you need.