CAMPAIGNERS to save Lewisham Hospital’s maternity and accident and emergency units last Saturday staged a victory march through the town centre to mark a court success against the plans by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to close Lewisham’s maternity accident and A&E units in order to bail out the bankrupt neighbouring South London Health Trust.
But the battle is far from over. Hunt decided to lodge an appeal against the ruling of Judge Justice Silber at the very last minute so the case will now go to the Appeal Court.
Local campaigners were angry at the waste of taxpayers’ money in dragging out the legal battle.
But leading campaigner George Hallam from the People before Profit Party pointed out a more serious threat to Lewisham Hospital from a Department of Health decision to carve up and rearrange south London’s hospital trusts.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Woolwich Common – sinking under the weight of PFI debts – is to be detached from the bankrupt South London Healthcare Trust and put in a new trust specially created trust with Lewisham.
It will leave Lewisham’s maternity and A&E safe for a few years. But, as campaigner Helen Mercer has shown, it will not be long before the Woolwich hospital’s debts render the new trust insolvent and the cuts will be put on the agenda again.
In a paper presented to the campaign and to the health authorities, Helen Mercer argued: “The Government’s own figures show that over the next 16 years PFI charges on the new merged Trust will increase by an average 4.7 per cent per year. In contrast, Government support for these charges will be frozen after 2015. Consequently the burden of unsupported PFI charges the new Trust will inherit from QEH will grow an average rate of 6.7 per cent.
“In cash terms the unsupported PFI burden will grow from 17 million this year to 20 million in 2016-17, to 25 million in 2019-20. By 2029-30 it will be an extra 47.7 million in.
“This means that just to remain solvent the new Trust will have to make ‘savings’ of millions of pounds every single year. The only way of avoiding these will be to increase income by expanding provision for private patients.
“Inevitably, a point will be reached were the only way of making ends meet will be through the same sort of savage cuts, such as the closure of whole departments, that the Special Administrator has sought to impose. The difference will be that such cuts will be an internal matter for the Trust and so not something we can challenge through a Judicial Review.
“Recognition of the extent of the problem puts an unavoidable duty on the campaign to discuss a response, to seek legal advice as necessary and to raise the issue publicly.
“I propose that SLH agrees that support for the merger will depend on the liquidation of, or at least renegotiation, of PFI commitments.
“One possible route might be to argue that the merger as envisaged should be reviewed with the aim of ensuring that any merger that does take place is preceded by a clear indication of how the PFI debts of the merged trust are to be paid in such a way as to avoid future threats to A&E, maternity services and so on in either hospital.
“Clearly, this requires taking legal advice. Unless this is done, the only way that the new Trust will be viable is through cuts and increased private patients.”
A report issued last week by the Office of National Statistics showed that 21,000 NHS jobs were lost over the last three months
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “These figures show how government cuts are continuing to hit vital frontline services with 21,000 jobs lost in the NHS over the last three months alone.
“Despite the Chancellor's boasts this week, austerity is continuing to cause damage and we are far from a strong and sustained jobs recovery.”