Around 500 people tried to make themselves heard at a public consultation on the closure of Lewisham A&E last Tuesday night.
The crowd had turned up to question Matthew Kershaw, administrator of the South London Healthcare Trust and architect of the plans to slash Lewisham’s healthcare services.
As well as shutting down the A&E department, Kershaw’s proposals include cutting medical and surgical wards, closing maternity services and selling off hospital assets.
Hospital workers, former patients and activists were angry that the venue for the consultation was far too small—with security guards hired specially to keep them out.
The main room held 225 people and an overflow room held 125. The rest of the crowd had to stand outside—but their chants of “Kershaw out” were loud enough to be heard inside.
Inside a film was shown promoting the proposed cuts. It was heckled by people shouting “Bollocks!”. One man told Kershaw, “We’re not stupid—we know hospitals have to run to a budget. But someone at your level failed—and we don’t want other hospitals to fail.”
The consultants working with Kershaw insisted that longer ambulance journeys to other A&E departments would make no difference to people.
A woman answered that her son was born in Lewisham hospital with the umbilical cord round his neck. They were on the operating table in 12 minutes, she added, but “he would have died in the ambulance on the way to Woolwich” if they had to have been moved to the next nearest A&E.
Kershaw said that the proposals would not affect mental health services. But a woman said her friend only survived a mental breakdown because she was able to get to Lewisham A&E on time. “Mental breakdown can be just as fatal as a heart attack,” she said.
Local Labour MP Heidi Alexander said to loud applause, “Our maternity service is excellent—it will be an outrage if it disappears.”
Many people in the audience felt they were not being listened to at all. One woman shouted, “It’s not a consultation—it’s something for yourselves.” People were particularly angry that the consultation period was so short—just 30 days.
After the meeting over 100 stayed outside chanting, “Kershaw—Tory scum”. The administrator and his team had to be escorted by police through the crowd and into their cars.
Lewisham residents confront Kershaw (Video: James Poulter)