Hospital workers plan to fight proposals to close departments and privatise services after an NHS trust in south east London was forced into administration.
The “bankrupt” South London Healthcare Trust should be broken up and services cut across the wider area, administrator Matthew Kershaw recommended this week.
As a knock-on effect he says the A&E at University Hospital Lewisham should close, even though it is not part of the trust. The Lewisham A&E is newly refurbished, and only re-opened six months ago. The hospital’s maternity unit is also threatened as well as some surgery departments.
A student nurse told Socialist Worker that a staff meeting to announce the report was “completely rammed”, with more than 400 attending.
“People were so angry in the meeting, and afterwards,” she said. “Those who spoke criticising the plans got massive applause. The way the administrator talked aggravated people even more. He said things like ‘these aren’t cuts, they’re changes’.
“But the cuts will be devastating. Not just here in Lewisham but right across the country when we’re seeing the biggest attack yet on the NHS.”
Workers at the hospital are organising for a public meeting for Thursday of next week. It is organised with the local Keep Our NHS Public group and supported by the BMA and Unite unions at the hospital. Hundreds of leaflets for it were given out at the staff meeting.
The administrator’s report proposes £79 million of proposed cuts over the next three years. More than half of this is set to come from job cuts. The report also calls for the outsourcing of non-clinical staff, pathology and the pharmacy.
In fact privatisation is a running theme of the report. It says Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup should be transformed into a “Bexley Health Campus”, where “services should be provided by a range of organisations”.
Private firms Virgin and Serco are already keen to bid. So is Circle Health, the venture capital backed firm which runs Hinchingbrooke hospital. Princess Royal hospital could also be offered to a private company and some hospital land sold off.
The trust, which covers a million people, built up debts mostly thanks to the ruinous cost of PFI borrowing from the private sector.
Yet the administrator says that while services can shut, PFI firms should continue to get their money. Private consultants were even paid £2 million to put together the administrator’s report.
Across Britain the wave of cuts proposals continues. Bosses at Kettering General Hospital are considering proposals to cut a staggering 515 out of 658 beds.
In south west London, plans to merge and close hospital departments have been put on hold. Around 1,000 people had marched against the closures. Proposals to close A&Es, children’s wards and maternity departments have now been postponed.
Meanwhile local campaigns are beginning to grow. Hundreds marched in Dewsbury on Saturday. And over in west London, bosses are feeling the pressure after some 6,000 people marched in two demonstrations against the closures last month.
If this is replicated in every area facing cuts, the attacks on the NHS can be driven back.
Public meeting, Thursday 8 November, 6pm at Lewisham hospital in the Lessoff auditorium. Speakers include Labour MPs Jim Dowd and Heidi Alexander, GP Dr Louise Irvine and others