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Tutu slams plans to close key services at Lewisham hospital

IN SUPPORT: Desmond Tutu

VETERAN PEACE campaigner Desmond Tutu has backed protests against plans to axe accident and emergency as well as maternity services at the Lewisham hospital.

The former Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize winner became the latest high profile supporter of the campaign, describing the plans as “scandalous” according to Malcolm Hancock, chaplain of Lewisham NHS Trust.

PETITION

Tutu, who lived in the south east London borough in the 1970s, decided to add his name to a petition against the proposed closures after he was contacted by Hancock.

Hancock said: “Given his links to the hospital, I contacted him to let him know about the proposals to close the full A&E and maternity services at Lewisham, which is a high performing and financially solvent NHS Trust. Although Desmond Tutu is currently on an educational world voyage, he responded straight away and asked for his name to be added to the petition against the proposals. He said he stands foursquare behind the petitioners, and described the plans to close vital services as scandalous. He said that he hoped good sense will prevail.”

The South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT), which Lewisham Hospital comes under, has accumulated debts of £150 million. In a bid to reduce the debts, Matthew Kershaw, the government appointed corporate undertaker who has been given the task of sorting out the SLHT’s finances, made the recommendation to strip Lewisham Hospital of its A&E and maternity services, arguing that it was vital to bringing costs down. Kershaw has also suggested merging the bankrupt Queen Elizabeth Hospital in nearby Woolwich with the solvent Lewisham Hospital.
A public consultation over the controversial issue ended in December. The report on that consultation has been given to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who will make a final decision by February 1.

ESSENTIAL

However, local people in the borough are up in arms over the plans, arguing that they should not lose essential services at a successful hospital because of debts incurred by the Trust.

Lewisham hospital’s accident and emergency services attend some 120,000 people each year. In 2011, maternity services delivered 4,000 babies.

Campaigners have warned that the proposals will result in 750,000 residents being forced to share one accident and emergency department run by the other hospitals in the Trust.

Already, over 20,000 people have signed a petition in a bid to keep the hospital open. The campaign petition has also been backed by MPs, union officials and hospital staff, who warned that the proposed changes would put pregnant women, children and some of the most vulnerable people at risk, especially if they visit already overburdened hospitals.


PROTEST: Olga Anyokwu

Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford suggested recently that NHS bosses should look at writing off debts instead of cutting services.

Among local residents fighting the proposals is Olga Anyokwu, who suffered a miscarriage in 2011.

She attended a march in November against the proposed cuts. Anyokwu said it was because of the maternity care staff at the hospital why she got proper care after she lost her baby. “The maternity staff was fabulous,” she told The Voice.

Other protestors gave accounts of receiving excellent care at the hospital when they and family members visited. One woman praised Lewisham’s employees for saving her mother’s life, her brother’s friend’s life and how maternity staff also made sure her nephew survived after he was born prematurely.

Hancock said that in addition to Tutu’s support, faith leaders across the borough were backing the 'Save Lewisham Hospital' campaign.

He said: “Everyone I have spoken to opposes these plans. There simply is no reason to close vital services for an area where the local population has high health needs.”

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