On 31 July, a High Court judge ruled that health minister Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in ordering the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and maternity unit. The ruling slammed the brakes on the closures. We won!
The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign warned us in advance the announcement would be at 11:30am; a tweet went out at 11:37, and by midday everyone in the hospital that I could find already knew the result. Lots of friends and family texted me to congratulate me, and throughout, hospital staff have been commenting in wonder at how the “little people” have won.
Everyone remarks about how proud they are of Lewisham. Funnily, people seem a little nervous of taking the credit.
It was the campaign that won, it was the people of Lewisham. It was all of us. We did it, us, us! The tens of thousands of people on our historic demonstrations did it. We didn’t need anyone else coming in to do this for us — we campaigned, and fund-raised, and refused to rest and accept Hunt’s decision.
We would never have been in a position to take this case in the first place if it were not for the financial and campaigning support of thousands of people.
This is a significant victory; the reverberations are being felt up and down the country, including in the corridors of power. But the fight is far from over.
We know already the government is planning to appeal the High Court decision. NHS England had Lewisham marked as one of nine A&Es in London that should close. The fight is still on, and the campaign is already planning a demonstration in Lewisham in September, as well as having a presence at both Labour and Conservative party conferences. It is right to do so.
Time and time again, the local community will show that they are determined to keep our hospital. This public support heartens us here in the hospital. Even though the fight isn’t over, the High Court victory shows us that we can force the government back.
These last few days, we’ve been smiling at each other in the corridors, and patients have been telling us how pleased they are about our victory. But we know the fight is still on.
Tim Higginson [Chief Executive of the hospital] has warned us that even if the judgement stands and the appeal fails there will be changes at Lewisham. The threat from government has receded by a few months’ distance at least, but we must be wary of our own management too, and note carefully what happens.
We know that things can be changed, that we have some power now. But we, as workers in the hospital, have a special, unique power beyond the general potential power of the community campaign. We know how to run this hospital, because we do run this hospital. We are the people who make it function, day in, day out.
If cuts are to be beaten back for good, we need to learn our unique power as workers to change and take control of our workplace. We need to learn together, we need to plan.
We have organisations to help us do this. Used properly they can help us fight, not just on the grand level of fighting cuts and closures but on a daily level of helping resist and reverses little injustices in the workplace.
These are our unions, our staffside. Unite is currently leading the way in actively opposing cuts and supporting the campaign, but all the unions need to work together, so we as a group of staff can stand together and protect ourselves and the services we provide.
If we can learn to communicate and work together for ourselves, just as we work together every day to provide our services, then we can do even more. Because we cannot be satisfied, surely, with saving the status quo.
We need to improve it. We should all be able to be truly proud of the services we provide — top-quality, free, public healthcare. Hunt’s legal blunder was part of the Con-Dem project to reform the NHS, and public services in general, in the interests of profit. We have set that project back with our win in the High Court.
But to derail it entirely, we must counter it with our own project to remake society in the interests of human need. And to do that, our unions must become organisations that can fight for a government that will serve workers’ interests as much as this government serves the interests of the rich.
This week’s win should galvanise us in that fight.
Win at the Whittington
The Whittington Hospital in Archway, north London has been under threat of an enormous sell-off of around half of its buildings and a resulting heavy reduction in patient provision.
Since January, campaigners have been intervening and agitating to stop the plans.
Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) activists trawled through papers at hospital Board meetings in order to find out plans: even MPs from the boroughs affected were unaware (members of the Board were even dragged into the House of Commons by angry local MPs).
After months of campaigning, the following plans have been dropped:
• cap hospital births at 4,000. The maternity unit that was previously facing cuts will be expanded with a £10 million investment
• plans to cut 570 jobs
• plans to cut sixty hospital beds
• plans to sell the Jenner Building and the Whittington Education Centre
• plans to reduce nurse-patient ratios.
However, the DWHC isn’t declaring a full victory. There are still problems with the new proposals. Job numbers haven’t been quantified, just the promise of “minimum redundancies”, meaning there could still be job cuts. Voluntary redundancies are already happening.
The new plans also include the aim to significantly increase early discharges. This puts the responsibility at the feet of the social care services of local councils, who simply do not have enough staff to cope.
The plans are also unclear about how many beds there will be. It is unclear what will happen to agency and temporary staff, whose pay makes up 10% of the hospital’s budget.
DWHC activists have been heroic in their dogged determination to confront senior members of the Hospital Board, in rifling through endless confusing documents and proposals, and in agitating on a number of different levels in order to achieve these gains.
• Next DWHC planning meeting — 2 September, 7 pm, Archway Methodist Church, Archway Close, London N19 3TD.
• Public meeting, 19 September, 7pm, Archway Methodist Church
• More info: Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition
The next battles
The Judicial Review stops Hunt’s closure plan, but means no extra money for the PFI-caused deficit in the South London NHS Trust that the plan was meant to cover.
Trust bosses will already be working on other plans for cuts. We must demand that the PFI debt is abolished.
The Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust went into administration on 16 April after a report concluded it was not “clinically or financially sustainable”, following critical failings at Stafford Hospital. But on 20 April, 50,000 people marched against threatened cuts and closures at the hospital. They did not want to lose the buildings and service provision there.
On 31 July the administrator recommended a series of cuts very similar to those at Lewisham and these will now be put to a public consultation to run over a very short timetable (and in the middle of the summer). Cuts include maternity, emergency operations and critical care.
Campaigners at Trafford General Hospital are fighting plans to downgrade their A&E to an urgent care centre and then in five years’ time to a minor illness and injury centre. The change would also see critical care, emergency surgery and children’s services being cut.
These plans have nothing to do with improving services, centralising specialist services, or any other often-heard “reason” for A&E closure. Central Manchester NHS Trust says it needs to cut £19m a year from the budget. Campaigners are considering whether to apply for a Judicial Review. Let’s hope they have been encouraged by Lewisham.
Barts Health, which runs six London hospitals plans to make £77.5 million of savings, including almost £30 million in emergency care and surgery. Problems have been exacerbated by the shape of the “Reformed NHS”, in particular NHS England and clinical commissioning groups failing to pay their bills on time.
What is likely to be cut? Services to some of the most vulnerable people. Mental health, care of people with learning disabilities.