Lewisham Hospital: Will the real Labour Party please stand up?

Lewisham Council ad

I went along to a public meeting in Eltham last week, and heard the area’s Labour MP Clive Efford absolutely tear into the plans to close the A&E at Lewisham Hospital. He spoke passionately about his wife’s experiences dealing with the private Blackheath Hospital, before turning his attention to what happened at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup when its A&E was under threat.

What happened at Sidcup A&E – it closed because the doctors wouldn’t work there. It had the sword of Damocles hanging over it – when jobs were advertised elsewhere, the doctors took them and no other doctors came in. So when they closed the A&E, they closed it because there were no flipping doctors there!

And that is what is going to happen at Lewisham. It’s got the sword of Damocles hanging over it, just like Sidcup, and it’ll die a death of a thousand cuts even if a decision is made to save it, it’ll probably have gone already. That’s what happens in the NHS, the doctors now know there’s a doubt about the future, and they’ll vote with their feet. And we will lose that A&E, the longer this decision goes on.

My view is – remove it from the proposals now. No closure of Lewisham A&E.

You can hear Clive Efford in full, below. (Audioboo)

You can also hear Erith & Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce, who also roundly condemned the proposals, adding the proposal for Lewisham had “knock-on effects for all of us”. “This report is looking to patch up a discredited market model,” she said. Here she is summing up at the end. (Audioboo)

Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford was a little more equivocal – I don’t think he actually mentioned Lewisham Hospital specifically, but he said the proposals were “too risky”. As for having just four A&Es in south-east London, he said it was “an assumption that needs to be questioned – I think there’s real worry about it”.

Here’s Nick Raynsford on the organisational aspects of the review. (Audioboo)

Matthew KershawNick Raynsford on A&Es and maternity services at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. (Audioboo)

Here’s Nick Raynsford summing up. (Audioboo)

Matthew Kershaw was heckled when he tried, once again, to use the Fabrice Muamba case as an example of how NHS emergency care works these days (the Bolton footballer was taken to the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green after suffering a heart attack at Tottenham, rather than a hospital closer to N17). (Audioboo)

Here’s Matthew Kershaw on private firms and the PFIs which have helped cripple South London Healthcare (Audioboo)

Finally, here he is insisting his plans have clinical support. Others disagree. (Audioboo)

Listening to Efford and Pearce tear into Kershaw’s proposal, you’d walk away content and under the impression that the local Labour parties are utterly opposed to Kershaw’s plans. Indeed, the meeting was organised by We Love The NHS, which is closely associated with the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party.

But the truth is anything but. And for those affected by the planned upheavals in south east London’s NHS – and that’s all of us, not just those in a borough with blue bins – the country’s opposition party and the dominant party in this part of the world is letting us down.

This isn’t a party political finger-jabbing – for if the Labour Party can’t get its act together on fighting for Lewisham Hospital, then it may as well just sign up to the coalition’s policies on health. If one part of the Labour Party is doing one thing, and another is doing something else, then why should we listen to or trust it?

Obviously, the party’s in a difficult situation, as the roots of the South London Healthcare fiasco lie in the Labour Government’s decision to impose a PFI on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital over a decade ago. Labour’s fingerprints are all over 31% of the trust’s debt. However, this can be a time to wipe the slate clean. But even now, there are those in the party who’ll defend that PFI, despite the crippling debts it brought about. This, though, is the last of its problems.

We know parties are broad coalitions, and it’s no secret there are some in the Labour Party whose views on the NHS are similar to the coalition’s. But the London Labour Party’s fully behind the Lewisham A&E campaign and has a firm line on this. It’s just launched a 999 SOS campaign, highlighting the threats to the NHS in London, as well as police and fire services. Cue lots of Labour politicians slapping themselves heartily on the back.

Lewisham’s completely behind it, proudly boasting that all of its councillors are fully behind the hospital campaign. Borough MPs Joan Ruddock, Heidi Alexander and Jim Dowd have spoken out. Indeed, Lewisham Council has thrown resources into backing the campaign, demanding an extension to the consultation and putting adverts up across the borough and using its Lewisham Life magazine to push the cause.

Ealing Council campaignIn west London, there’s a serious threat to local A&Es there, too. Ealing Council’s launched a Save Our Hospitals campaign to demand that not just Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals are protected, but so are Charing Cross and Hammersmith, which lie outside its area.

So, we can see examples of local Labour parties and Labour councils working not just to protect what lies within their borders, but what lies outside, too.

But not all London Labour councils are as signed up to the 999 SOS campaign as you’d expect. Yes, you guessed it, once again, Greenwich is dragging its feet at the back of the pack.

It’s not that Greenwich hasn’t done anything – it’s actually done some good work in organising extra public meetings. But while other councils are campaigning, Greenwich is keeping its mouth shut and its options open. A joint campaign between the two councils would have done wonders – but instead, it seems Greenwich is focusing more on its own hospital, Queen Elizabeth, and not worrying about the other.

Indeed, while none will go on the record as saying so, there are Greenwich councillors who see nothing wrong with the threat to Lewisham’s A&E – perhaps that Kershaw’s plans are a little too hasty, and that other NHS reforms should be given a chance to kick in first.

What we do know is that health cabinet member John Fahy has called the plans “better than expected but with some serious negatives”, and has said “changes need to happen” without elaborating much further.

News of the consultation has fallen off the front of Greenwich Council’s website, and as for leader Chris Roberts, he has only given a bland statement urging residents to take part in the process – not a million miles from the line put out by Lewisham Conservatives.

Lewisham demo, 20 November 2012Is the Greenwich Labour party campaigning to save emergency services, or not? We know that many in the local party are unhappy. Sceptical councillors did a good job of cross-examining Kershaw last month, and a handful paraded with a party banner through Lewisham last weekend (others, apparently, had decided to campaign in the Croydon North by-election instead).

But even its We Love The NHS campaign has been silent on the Lewisham issue, despite organising the Eltham meeting mentioned above. Is Greenwich somehow exempt from campaigning for its neighbouring borough?

“[It’s] vital we do not let the Government divide the people of Lewisham and Greenwich by pitting one hospital against another,” tweeted Lewisham councillor Liam Curran a couple of weeks back. But unfortunately for the Sydenham representative, and the rest of us, his party colleagues may have fallen into that trap already.

It’s possible we may see Greenwich’s response start to emerge this week. “If we don’t fight to save emergency services, who will?”, asked Labour assembly member Fiona Twycross recently. Within days, we may find out if her party colleagues in Greenwich have got the message.

Update 2.50pm: This week’s new edition of Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time does, indeed, launch a new campaign… but on river crossings.

For more on the consultation, which ends on 13 December, see the TSA website. For more on the campaign to protect Lewisham’s hospital services, see Save Lewisham Hospital. There’s a consultation meeting at The Valley in Charlton on Monday (TONIGHT) at 7pm.


  1. The e mail I had from Councillor Chris Roberts when I challenged him was a masterpiece in prevarication: basically “wait and see what happens” and John Fahy has failed to reply to any tweet I sent him: A campaign in the press is needed to get Greenwich Council into action along the lines you suggest. I wish I could be more active but I am a full time carer for my 88 year old father and virtually housebound. My father owes his life to Lewisham A&E

  2. Thanks for commenting, Ian. One problem in Greenwich borough, though: what press? The council runs the most-widely distributed paper in the borough.

  3. Its very hard for the Labour party to be too critical since they at the national level made use of PFI contracts and ran a fiscal policy that has given us issues like this to now resolve.

  4. I hope those Labour Party members who have proved themselves through their hard work for this campaign will not be offended by this article.

    We are in a very serious situation and we can’t afford to ignore key questions. This is why, sharp though it is, the article is timely and useful.

    However we will fail if we don’t understand what we are up against.

    1. Some people seem to think that the proposal to close Lewisham A&E is just a silly mistake and that we have won already.
    There are two variants of this, an administrative mistake and a political mistake.
    a) Administratively Kershaw’s plan will make things worse and we have demonstrated this conclusively. All we need to do is to come up with some sensible alternative that will work within the existing budget constraints.
    b) Politically it is government policy not to force through changes against the wishes of the local population. So, obviously, the massive demonstration of the 24th by local people, organised at short notice and without media publicity, means the plan is dead.

    2. Alternatively, we still have some way to go because this is a nasty ‘Tory plot’. The thinking is that this proposed closure is only happening because Conservatives (and LibDems) don’t care what happens to ‘plebs’ like us and anyway they have nothing to lose politically since Lewisham is a solid Labour area.

    On this line of reasoning getting ordinary people involved is just a way of getting publicity. It’s not that important because the government will always ignore protests
    Conclusion: the only way of ‘winning’ is through parliamentary and legal means. Lewisham isn’t part of the SLHT so Kershaw has exceeded his brief by including it in his plan. Legally, the consultation is crucial to validating proposals and politically. We have a Labour MP looking into this so all is well.

    A variant of the nasty ‘Tory plot’ line is that there will be a general election in 2015 when we can vote in a Labour Government that will make everything better.
    Conclusion: don’t criticise Labour about PFI etc. as this will disillusion the votes, or push for radical promises (thus giving the press the opportunity to frighten the voters). This sort of thing will let the Tories in again.

    The reality is that the proposals neither a ‘mistake’ or a plot by ‘nasty Tories’: it’s much more serious than that.

    SLHT is the first to be bankrupted and, predictably, the decision has been made to use this as a means of pushing through the reduction of front-line services. If they can do this to Lewisham then they will find it easier to do the same in other areas. Before you know it the NHS will be gone and we will have multi-tier system à la USA. We can’t afford to fail.

    What we are seeing is the culmination of policy decisions that were taken years ago and at the very highest levels.
    a) This is a not party political. The main structures were put in place by Labour as well as Conservative governments

    b) It is a political decision in the sense that it’s a decision about what the state is to do. It has the full backing of the top civil servants, importantly the head of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, and all the officials at the Treasury.

    c) ‘The City’ (banks and financial interests) are desperate to control government spending and continue milking the state.

    d) The media are setting the terms of the debate to validate the whole case for cuts.

    This is a powerful collation of forces but they have some serious weakness.

    They represent the real interests of very few people. I won’t put an exact percentage on it, but it’s not lot. This means that, to a great extent, they rely on the apathy and ignorance of the majority of the population.
    The ‘powers that be’ have got themselves into a series of problems. Some are personal and plainly criminal (e.g. Jimmy Saville) others are more financial (tax evasion). In my view, the most fundamental is the economic crisis which is now in its sixth year. The former are embarrassing scandals, the latter means that the existing political establishment is not delivering for ordinary people.

    We can exploit these weakness to make them stop their attack on Lewisham Hospital and retreat from their plan to destroy the NHS.

    Those who know the history of the Welfare State will know that the commitment to build it was made in the dark days of 1942 and that in the 1945 election ALL THREE major political parties promised to implement it. This was despite all the damage and debts incurred by the war.

    We have to think about why they’ve changed their tune

  5. Whilst it would seem Labour are at the front of the march to protest our NHS, yourv readers should remember it was the Labour Goverment who pushed through both the Privatisation agenda in the NHS and through tax payers money at PFI, the SCAM in which the cost to build Woolwich and Bromley Hospitals came in at £210 Million, so far Tax payers via the NHS have paid these offshore sharks £500 Million, by end of Lease it will be £2 Billion, you do not need to take my word for it, Chjeck out the website for People before Profit and they have really good stuff on PFI plus a number 10 Petition we should all sign to outlaw this scam. The Labour party has chosed to forget PFI and its record in Goverment. Is it any wonder more and More Lewisham and Greenwich Residents vote People Before Profit. Labour is no different to the Conservatives, in fact they are worse as they carry out the Tory cuts agenda whilst abusing Labour Voters who still stupidly think the L:abour Party cares about them, and not the Big Business concerns that pay Labour loads of cash.Only 1 month ago former Labour Lewisham Councvil Leader Moran was found Guilty of stealing ctax payers money, but sadly she is depressed to facing no jail, Last weeks By election saw another Labour MP and establishment figure resign his seat for stealing public money. Why is has he not been charged?

  6. @ Margaret Smith

    Granted that the national leaders of the Labour Party did push through privitisation in many areas including the NHS.

    However I stand by my remarks in support of those Labour Party members who have proved themselves through their hard work especially in mobilising people for the demonstration on the 24th November.

    Not to excuse the leaders, but they were under pressure from the City and the media, not to mention top civil servants, to go along with the privitisation/deregulation agenda.

  7. it seems Greenwich is focusing more on its own hospital, Queen Elizabeth, and not worrying about the other.
    It couldn’t be because they are worried that if Lewisham’s A&E is saved, someone will decide to close the A&E at the QE hospital instead, could it?

  8. “It couldn’t be because they are worried that if Lewisham’s A&E is saved, someone will decide to close the A&E at the QE hospital instead, could it?”


  9. […] In contrast with last night’s meeting in Lewisham, which sounded rather lively (and where security staff reportedly tried to bar journalists), Tuesday’s meeting at The Valley in Charlton was less than half-full, with only about 30-40 people there, with barely a voice raised in anger. A large number of questioners were councillors and members of the Greenwich Labour party. […]

  10. […] Did any of Greenwich’s 40 Labour councillors propose any motion to express the council’s disapproval of the government’s plan to shut the neighbouring A&E? No. To be fair, Greenwich eventually submitted a written response pointing out the closure was wrong, but politically, Greenwich’s Labour leadership didn’t lift a finger in the council chamber. Out of sight of the leader Chris Roberts, backbench councillors asked searching questions at a meeting with the ill-fated NHS adminstrator. But none of them proposed a motion to object, and the leadership kept their mouths shut and their options open. I wrote about this in December. […]

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