Since the start of the year hundreds of thousands of people have mobilised around the country to save the NHS.
• On 16 March 5,000 people marched through the streets of Islington to stop cuts — loss of 230 beds and 570 jobs — at the Whittington Hospital.
• On the same day hundreds of protesters gathered outside Lewisham Hospital to oppose the downgrading of the emergency and maternity services — cuts that threaten the long-term future of the hospital.
• On 26 January 25,000 people marched through Lewisham. That did not stop Tory Health Minister Jeremy Hunt from approving the plan to downgrade the hospital.
• In Leeds more than 600,000 people have signed a petition to defend the children’s heart surgery unit.
When the government announced plans to sneak through regulations to the Health and Social Care Act that will mean the privatisation of the NHS, 200,000 people signed a protest petition in days. The Government are now back with the same sort of plans, and so the campaign continues.
Together these local mobilisations could be the beginning of a mass movement. As that movement begins to take shape we will begin to work out what sort of health service we need.
Defend maternity services in Lewisham
The government plans to replace the obstetrician-led maternity service at Lewisham Hospital with a stand-alone birth centre.
A birth centre is a unit for women with so-called low-risk pregnancies (an estimated 10 per cent of all births). There will no longer be facilities at the hospital for emergency situations — no theatres, no critical care for babies.
And Lewisham has a high proportion of high risk births.
In the event of an emergency mothers and babies will have to be rushed in an ambulance to another hospital, miles down the road, to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.
Without on-site back-up facilities like this, both midwives and obstetricians believe that a stand-alone centre is not safe.
While many women in the low-risk category would prefer a midwife-led service, they generally want to know it’s safe and emergency treatment is there if they need it. And the option of home birth will no longer exist, as women will not want to use a service that is not backed up by a local acute service.
Lewisham currently helps around 4,000 babies be born every year. Where will everyone go when it effectively no longer exists?
Last year King’s closed its doors to expectant mothers on seven occasions. Even Lewisham had to close their existing unit on three occasions. Statistics from the Greater London Authority predict that by 2016 (the year after the predicted closure) 5,163 babies will be born in Lewisham — that’s 1,000 more babies than in 2006.
Women will now receive antenatal care in the community, care in labour by another set of midwives and then yet another change with postnatal care. The whole birth experience will be very complicated for some — much more stressful than it need be.
GPs have unanimously and publicly told the Trust Special Administrator and Department of Health that they are against the proposals. In the new NHS, GP commissioners are supposed to be in the driving seat — yet they are being ignored!
More to the point, none of these changes were made by consulting people in Lewisham. They were made so that the government could bail out the South London Healthcare Trust’s debt to a big business PFI scheme.
This attack on our maternity service is another assault on women alongside cuts to child tax credit, community resources and largely female-dominated public sector jobs.
The government’s rhetoric of choice, either on choices for pregnant women or for everyone else using the health service, is a lie.
Stop these cuts!