Monday, July 15, 2013

Lewisham Hospital latest - and my tour of A&E

Still waiting for the outcome of the judicial reviews into the Government's planned reductions in services at Lewisham Hospital. Two weeks ago at the High Court both the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and Lewisham Council submitted their cases that the plans were unlawful.

Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice on 2 July

On 29 June, the Campaign organised their own People's Commission at the Broadway Theatre in Catford. They say:

'The purpose of the People’s Commission was to hear the evidence which had been ignored by the Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw and by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt who accepted Kershaw’s proposals for Lewisham almost in their entirety.

In front of a packed audience in The Broadway Theatre Catford, a panel chaired by barrister Michael Mansfield QC and including Baroness Warnock and award-winning Lewisham author and journalist Blake Morrison, heard evidence from 25 witnesses – patients, patient group representatives, GPs, hospital consultants and nurses who were questioned by a team of barristers from Tooks Chambers.  More than 50 witnesses, including community members and faith leaders, gave written and video testimony, some of which was shown at the Commission hearing.

Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock and Lord David Owen spoke passionately in defence of Lewisham Hospital and the NHS.

The initial findings of the Panel are that:

- the consultation exercise was a sham.
- there was unanimous opposition from Lewisham GPs and the CCG to the option to close services at Lewisham Hospital.
- the decision to downgrade Lewisham in the manner described above has nothing to do with the provision of healthcare in SE London              
- the Minister's decision is based entirely on economic considerations and is an unvarnished sleight of hand to reconfigure finances not healthcare
- the proposals demonstrate a lamentable absence of evidence-led research
- where the proposals envisage new facilities there is no evidence to show how they would be implemented, nor what impact the removal of current resources would have on the community.
- the proposal for a small and safe A&E is a contradiction in terms and clearly does not accord with basic clinical  requirements.
- the midwife-led birth unit presents no clinical sense
- a walk-in paediatric urgent care service has no clear parameters, is unsafe and unsustainable.

The panel was also concerned that an admirable record of training at Lewisham Hospital will also fall victim to the proposed changes'.

My tour of South London A&E

As it happened, I spent the day of the Commission in Accident and Emergency with an eye injury. One of the issues with the plans is that people from Lewisham would have to travel further to get care. In some cases that could be a matter of life and death, my case wasn't that serious but I can say that when you are suffering in pain every moment of delay in getting treatment feels like an eternity. It was bad enough being stuck in the traffic in Ladywell, it would have been much worse if I had had to get to Woolwich.

I did (eventually) get some great care, getting to be seen by a specialist doctor which made me very thankful for the NHS. My experience certainly reconfirmed my opposition to cuts in services, but also made me aware of how simply defending the current services is not enough. Hospital services are already under-resourced and over-stretched, sometimes leaving patients in limbo waiting hours with nobody telling them what's going on. 

In my case, I was told at Lewisham that I should have gone to Kings College Hospital as Lewisham didn't have an ophthalmologist. After some pain relief at Lewisham  I ended up going to Kings in Camberwell later on. I don't know how Kings would cope with the increase in patients it would face if Lewisham A&E closes. Along with most people there I waited several hours to be seen after a quick initial chat with the triage nurse. I don't doubt that were people who were more of a priority than me, but they were plainly understaffed. There were times on a busy Saturday night in casualty when there appeared to be nobody on duty at the front desk - people wandering in off the streets to find that both the triage nurse and the admin/receptionist were temporarily off somewhere else. Maybe the hospital was saving its staff to make sure it looked better on Channel 4's 24 Hours in A&E, currently being filmed there!

(on a personal note, my eyes are now fine. Several people have told me that I would have been better off going to Moorfields Eye Hospital Accident and Emergency by Old Street Station, which treats people from all over London and beyond. Maybe, it is good to have specialist centres like that, but it also very important that people can get urgent treatment closer to home. I was lucky enough to have someone to take care of me and drive me around, as I was temporarily blinded, don't know how I would have coped on public transport).

Ellie Veale from Hither Green on top of Mount Kilimanjaro with a Save Lewisham Hospital poster

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