SUPPORT: Olga Anyokwu
LOCAL PEOPLE in a London borough with one of the capital's largest black communities have vowed to continue their fight to keep their local hospital open.
Hundreds of residents turned up at a public meeting last week at the Catford Broadway Theatre in south London to protest against plans to close Lewisham Hospital’s Accident and Emergency and Maternity Services.
Already, more than 19,000 people have signed a petition in support of keeping the hospital open. A public consultation over the controversial issue will run until December 13.
Organisers of last week’s meeting and the petition, Save Lewisham Hospital Group, said the cuts to the hospital, which recently reopened its Accident and Emergency ward after a £12 million refurbishment, are part of proposed restructuring of hospital services to plug debts of more £150 million incurred by another trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which went into administration in July.
A draft report has suggested that the debt cannot be reversed even with curtailing services at other southeast London hospitals.
Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford, has suggested that NHS bosses consider writing off debts, instead of cutting services.
In light of the planned closure, local residents have sought to show their disapproval in numbers as they argue against being penalised for the excess actions of other hospitals, in this case, the South London Healthcare Trust.
Last week’s meeting followed an earlier march through the area on November 24 organised by the Save Lewisham Hospital Group. The rally attracted thousands of locals, who formed a human chain around Lewisham Hospital.
During the rally protestors spoke of their desire to save Accident and Emergency services that see around 120,000 people each year and maternity services, where 4,000 babies were born last year.
“Save people, not money,” the crowd chanted. “They say cut back, we say fight back.”
Among them was Olga Anyokwu, who suffered a miscarriage last year. Braving cold weather and whipping rain and mud, Anyokwu told The Voice she had to be among the stream of placard bearing protesters that included people of all races and backgrounds, their ages ranging from under 10 to over 70.
Anyokwu said maternity care staff at Lewisham Hospital ensured she was properly treated when she lost her baby. “The maternity staff were fabulous,” she told The Voice.
Similar stories were heard during the march. One woman praised Lewisham’s Accident and Emergency staff for saving her mother’s life, her brother’s friend’s life and how maternity staff also made sure her nephew lived after he was born prematurely.
Another local resident who braved the cold, Monica Johnson, held up a placard, warning that cuts could mean 750,000 residents would be forced to share one Accident and Emergency department.
Speakers ranged from concerned MPs, union officials and hospital staff, who warned that the proposed changes would put pregnant women, children and some of the poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, especially if they ended up at already overburdened hospitals.
“This is only the beginning of our campaign,” warned local GP and Save Lewisham Hospital Group’s chair Dr. Louise Irvine, as people later congregated at nearby Ladywell Park. “…I know how much our residents depend on our hospital and it is an act of vandalism to destroy it. This is a fight to the death for our NHS.”
The rally and last week’s public meeting came amid newspaper reports that, despite public consultation still being open, officials have already scouted a leader for the new organisation that is to become operational after the merger of Lewisham Healthcare and Queen Elizabeth Woolwich Hospital Trusts has been