“I was mesmerised”; “I sat there all day, most of the time on the edge of my seat”; “We should have a People’s Commission into all the cuts they’re making to all of our services”. These were just a few of the comments made by the 600 people who attended the Lewisham “People’s Commission of Inquiry” on Saturday 29 June.
The Commission, organised by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, was an audacious and bold thing to do. From 9.30am to 5.30pm, residents of Lewisham were invited to attend the Inquiry chaired by Mike Mansfield QC. More than 25 witnesses gave evidence and were cross examined by four barristers from Tooks Chambers in effort to expose the lies the government and its agents have told about Lewisham Hospital to justify the closure of services and the sell-off of land.
Packed into the Broadway Theatre in Catford, residents and supporters listened to in-depth detailed analysis from Professor Colin Leys, Professor Allyson Pollock, and a stream of consultants, GPs, nurses, and patients from Lewisham.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was invited to give evidence, but of course failed to turn up. In his place, the actor Peter Treece, read actual words Hunt has written and spoken in defence of his decision.
GPs and consultants spoke of a meeting they were invited to as part of the Trust Special Administrator’s (TSA) consultation before Hunt’s announcement was made in January this year. They each described how any opposition or questioning of the TSA’s proposals was ignored.
Doctors, nurses and patients gave scientific evidence, with passion and emotion, telling of the implications of closing Lewisham hospital for local residents. Witness after witness, patient after consultant, academic after nurse, all put the case for Lewisham.
Allyson Pollock’s contribution early on in the day put the case for a publicly-funded NHS and against PFI. She called on the audience to see the big picture of how PFI is to blame for hospitals’ and Trusts’ debts, and not “mismanagement” as the TSA and Hunt want us to believe. She explained how every hospital funded by PFI actually cost the taxpayer the price of two or three hospitals because of the extortionate interest rates being paid.
Allyson introduced a report she is completing for publication on the eve of the Save Lewisham Hospital’s Judicial Review of Hunt’s decision to downgrade, close, and sell-off Lewisham Hospital land and services.
The report, “The TSA regime and the South London Healthcare NHS Trust: a case of blaming the victims” examines evidence ignored by the TSA and the government.
It shows that the “closures, redundancies, and sale of land in South East London are the result of the government not acting in the interests of the health service as required by parliament when triggering the TSA regime.” The report concludes that the cuts “do not serve patients, whose needs have been, at best, down-played and at worst ignored. PFI is playing a major role in service closure and in the case of Lewisham hospital there is no doubt that the government is sacrificing a thriving local hospital in order to protect the interests of bankers, shareholders and corporate stakeholders rather than open up the contracts.”
Allyson Pollock ended her evidence and cross-examination to loud cheers and applause from the audience. Along with Colin Leys, she set out the big picture for the NHS and left the audience in no doubt about what is happening to the National Health Service under this Tory/Lib-Dem government.
In a world where we’re fed a daily diet of tripe as if we’re all too stupid to understand a detailed analysis of anything, where we start to believe that we’ve all got the concentration span of a goldfish and all news and information has to be simplified and fed to us in bitesized chunks, the People’s Inquiry proved the absolute opposite.
More than seven hours of non-stop evidence being presented and questioned, with no intervention from the floor, held an audience captivated; and inspired them to fight on in support of Lewisham Hospital and the NHS. We raised over £1,800 selling campaign merchandise at the beginning of the Justice for Lewisham week.
This week, the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign will be attending a three-day Judicial Review of Hunt’s decision, in the High Court in London. Whether we win the Judicial Review or not, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is determined to fight on to defend services and to defend and rebuild the NHS.
On Friday, July 5, we will be celebrating and organising to defend the NHS on its 65th birthday, partying outside the hospital with hospital workers, raising political demands and building Unite inside the hospital.
The day will end with a showing of The Spirit of ‘45 in the hospital followed by discussion.