Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lewisham Hospital Protest at Department of Health

In the build up to this Saturday's big Save Lewisham Hospital demonstration, supporters mounted a 'mums and buggies' protest outside the Department of Health headquarters in Whitehall today, with around 60 parents with their children blockading the entrance. Currently 4,000 babies are born every year at the hospital, but maternity services will be radically reduced under the cuts proposals.

Consultant obstetrician Ruth Cochrane said: "Lewisham currently has full maternity services and it is wonderful to see that so many local mothers have come out to support the trust. Proposals to downgrade these services and to have a midwife-led birth centre – without the back-up provided by full obstetric services - are just not safe. If women experience a complication during childbirth they would have to be transferred from Lewisham to King's Hospital or to Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, both of which are simply too far." (see report at Newsshopper).

Support for the campaign was also shown at Millwall's home match against Burnley last weekend, with players warming up in 'Save Lewisham A&E' t-shirts. The club's FA Cup match against Aston Villa has been moved from Saturday to Friday 25th to avoid a clash with the demonstration - apparently the police can't cope with both on the same day. The club is fully behind the campaign saying:  'Whilst changing the date of our Cup tie is an inconvenience to us, we believe there is a bigger picture here. Millwall Football Club, our players, staff and many thousands of fans have, over the years, had reason to be grateful for the resources, facilities and care we have received from our local hospital. We are not persuaded by the arguments put forward in favour of closing the A&E department, childrens ward, intensive care and maternity services at Lewisham...  we would also encourage supporters who feel strongly about this issue to attend the demonstration next Saturday'.

The demonstration on Saturday will start at Lewisham Roundabout (by the station) at 12 noon on Saturday 26th January. It will march past the hospital to Mountsfield Park for rally, music and giant petition.

If you can give out any leaflets at work, school or in your street, there are details of how to help at the Save Lewisham Hospital site.

As discussed here previously, the threat to Lewisham Hospital services has now become a national issue as a test case for the Coalition Government's claims that the NHS is safe in its hands. Two weeks ago the subject dominated BBC's Question Time, filmed in New Cross. In last Saturday's Guardian magazine, columnist Lucy Mangan wrote: 'we march again, next Saturday. Please come. You don't have to live in Lewisham. Because if there's one thing the dragooning of Lewisham into the service of a neighbouring trust's debt shows, it's that where you live doesn't matter. Your beloved, priceless, well-sited hospital – be it ever so efficient, admired or attuned to local needs – could at any point be next in the stealthy process of breaking up the NHS and selling it, privately, for parts'. Writing in New Statesman, Lewisham Hospital-born Rowenna Davis remarked: 'For many, this is a political decision. Lewisham is a poor area and as one doctor put it, “There is very little to lose when everyone votes Labour here anyway”. The alternative is to close hospitals in Conservative-held areas like Kent, and MPs like Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Julian Lewis have already proven that even Tories can’t justify closures in their own backyard. Some call it “fiscal nimbyism”. Patients and doctors call it understanding the consequences when you’re close to them'.

The campaign has also gained international support in the shape of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has reportedly described the plans as 'scandalous'. And if you're wondering what it's got to do with him, it was his local hospital when he lived in Brownhill Road, Catford in the 1970s, and he opened the Riverside building at Lewisham Hospital in 2007.

Today's protest was the main story in ITV London News and also featured on BBC London.

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