PROTEST: Monica Johnson.Pics: Trudy Simpson
More than 19,000 people have signed a petition in a bid to save a southeast London hospital from cuts that could see it lose its Maternity and Accident and Emergency services.
A public consultation over the controversial issue will run until December 13 and the petition is part of ongoing action to prevent proposals that could see the closure of these units at Lewisham Hospital.
Local residents are expected to turn out for a public meeting at the Catford Broadway Theatre in south London around 7.00pm on Wednesday (Nov 28), as they ramp up their efforts to prevent the loss of vital services at the hospital, which serves a borough with one of Britain’s largest black populations.
Organisers, Save Lewisham Hospital Group, said the cuts to the hospital, recently reopened its Accident and Emergency 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.
It went into administration in July. A draft report has suggested that the debt cannot be reversed with reviewing services at other southeast London hospitals.
CLEAR MESSAGE: A teenaged protester shows how he feels about proposed changes at Saturday's (Nov 24) rally
But local residents and organisers are up in arms over the plans, stating that they should not lose essential services at a successful hospital because of debts caused by another trust. Among the proposed alternatives to cutting services was writing off debts, MP Joan Ruddock suggested.
On Saturday, the Save Lewisham Hospital group organised a rally that attracted thousands of people, who formed a human chain around Lewisham Hospital.
They said during a rally they want to save Accident and Emergency services that see around 120,000 people each year and maternity services, where 4000 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 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 property treated when she lost her baby. “The maternity staff was fabulous,” she told The Voice .
Similar stories were heard on Saturday. 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 months early.
SUPPORT: Olga Anyokwu
Monica Johnson was also out on Saturday, saying she was here to help save the hospital. Bundled in a winter coat, Johnson held up a placard, warning that cuts could mean 750,000 residents would be forced to share one Accident and Emergency department.
Rally speakers, ranging from residents to MPs, union officials and hospital staff, warned 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 public meeting also come amid outrage following newspaper reports that - despite the still open public consultation - officials have already scouted a leader for an organisation planned for after the cuts, the proposed merging of Lewisham Healthcare and Queen Elizabeth Woolwich hospital trusts.