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article imageLewisham Hospital and the fight against the cuts Special

By Alexander Baron     Nov 5, 2012 in Health
London - The campaign against the savaging of health services in the London Borough of Lewisham is heating up. Iain Wilson is in the thick of it.
AB: Thank you for taking the time to speak to Digital Journal. We published a bit about your campaign last week, but it's good to get an inside view. How long has it been running?
Iain Wilson: There was a first meeting on September 28 after it became clear the administrator would recommend the closure of Lewisham Accident & Emergency, and its replacement with an urgent care centre – which is some GPs, nurses, an X-ray machine and quick blood results.
AB: Have you been given a firm date for closure?
IW: No. The draft report consultation ends on December 13, 2012. The administrator then reads the consultation feedback and gives Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt the final recommendations by January 7, 2013. Then Jeremy Hunt tells us the final decision on February 1, 2013.
AB: How much leeway is there?
IW: Those guidelines are set-out by law, so I don’t think there’s any.
AB: How much support have you got, in particular are there any prominent Conservatives or similar in this campaign?
IW: Loads of support from lots of places. The Mayor, the local MPs, workers from all over the NHS: doctors, nurses, therapists, patients...over 500 twitter followers. Loads of local residents have been in touch. I suppose we’ll see at the demonstration on November 24 at 2pm. I don’t know about Conservative support. I haven’t come across anyone Conservative involved in an official capacity. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been supporting us though, and just been dealing with someone else in the group.
AB: The claim has been made that closing this unit could endanger lives. An obvious possibility is if there is a major incident, a big fire or something, how will it be covered?
IW: The theory is that other A&Es will have to cope. So it’ll be diverting people into the accident & emergency departments at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings, Princess Royal Farnborough, maybe Darenth Valley and St Thomas’s, depending where it is. The thing is, those A&Es are already feeling the strain. And QEH and PRUH will be cutting £39 million from their staff budgets and cutting other services, because of the draft report.
AB: Another scenario, someone has a heart attack, stroke or something like that, how much will this add in journey time from particular places?
IW: That depends where they are, and to which hospital the victim is taken. The draft report has done some calculations, but these don’t factor in the possibility that an A&E is full and putting patients on divert. The worst place to be would be South Lewisham, so that’s the South Circular.
AB: Is there any provision for air ambulance cover, that sort of thing?
IW: I don’t know. They run on donations and stuff, don’t they? I don’t know where is covered by air ambulance.
AB: Finance-wise, do you have any details of the debts that are owed, namely which hospital or whatever owes how much? To whom are these debts owed? Is it just banks or other parties? Can you give names if possible? How much of this debt is real debt and how much of it is things like consultancy fees? In particular, how much of it is interest?
IW: These are good sources for those questions:
AB: Would it be possible for this debt issue to be resolved in some other way, by - don't laugh, I'm serious - a set number of free operations or some other payment in kind, perhaps a doctor and nurse being available at a reduced rate for events or some such?
IW: The debt should be re-negotiated. God knows why the administrator didn’t suggest that. The Private Finance Initiative companies are rolling in money and make over 50% profit from their turnover. Some of them evade tax. They can absorb a restructuring of the debt. The PFI schemes are a millstone on the neck of the NHS and our schools. They should never have been allowed. It’s worth pointing out that New Labour took out these loans everywhere they could.
AB: What are you doing besides meetings: petitions, a lobby of Parliament, a custard pie in the Minister's face?
IW: Yes, the demonstration, November 24 at 2pm, from Loampit Vale roundabout. Or people can get to the hospital around 3pm. There is a public meeting this Thursday November, 6-8pm, at Lewisham Hospital in the Lessoff Auditorium. Check our website for details, updates, petitions, public meetings, etc. Things are always being planned, but the demonstration is the firmest date in the calendar.
AB: Iain Wilson, thank you very much.
The two links Iain Wilson gave us contain no information about interest, that will take some digging. One suspects though there is more than a little cronyism afoot as with Lord Bichard.
If you live in Lewisham or even if you don't, you might consider supporting this campaign. You might not be able to get pregnant or be liable to suffer a stroke or heart attack, but accidents including fires are a different matter, and if the extra journey time in the ambulance concerns you, a family member, friend or colleague, those few minutes could be precious indeed.
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