NHS Review Threatens Lewisham A&E

The A&E department of Lewisham Hospital means a lot to me – it is the place I went some years ago when I was suddenly taken seriously ill. The care and support I received there made a huge difference to me and my family. It is the place that numerous friends and family have gone over the years and its presence and accessibility is something that we take as a constant. 

Until 2002 I chaired the Trust Board at Lewisham Hospital (now Lewisham Healthcare) and the A&E was at the heart of that Hospital – lots of other things happen there, of course, but the A&E was a reassuring presence day by day and in a crisis it was always the first place we went. 

The NHS like every other part of the public sector faces huge challenges today – in part because of the economic situation the country faces but also because changing demographics and clinical ways of working make change inevitable. This morning the Special Administrator for the South London Healthcare Trust (which does not include Lewisham) published his report which recommends among other things that the A&E at Lewisham should cease to exist as we have known it. 

It also recommends changes to the maternity services at Lewisham as part of a merger with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. The Special Administrator’s recommendations are complex and we need time to digest and assess them but at first sight they are of huge concern to those of us who want to ensure the best possible health care for Lewisham residents and those of us who care about Lewisham Hospital. 

The process of using a Special Administrator is untested and there is a great deal of uncertainty about how matters will move forward over the coming weeks. There is a short window in which comments can be made on the draft report and I will want to ensure that the council responds in detail but individuals will also want to comment as well. The consultation runs for 30 working days and commences on 2 November, concluding at midnight on 13 December. 

There will be many implications that we need to understand not just for the NHS but for other services including those provide by the council but over the coming weeks my primary concern will be to do everything possible to make sure that my fellow Lewisham residents continue to have access to that high quality healthcare we need and have been receiving from Lewisham Hospital. To see the whole report go to here.

GCSE Grade Fiasco

Today (26 October 2012) Lewisham Council, on behalf of 42 other local authorities from across the country, formally served legal papers on Ofqual, AQA and Edexcel in our fight to get the GCSE English exams sat in June re-graded. 

The claim challenges the inter-linked decisions first by the exam boards to increase the C grade boundary in the June 2012 English GCSE by an unprecedented margin and second by Ofqual to approve, or fail to reverse, that decision.

In Lewisham, 163 pupils are affected, but an estimated 10,000 students consequently missed out on a C grade as a result of the decisions. 

This is an injustice that we cannot ignore. Lewisham students have been put at a unfair disadvantage by this position, and it is right that the council makes a stand on their behalf. Any costs that may arise will be shared between the councils involved in the action. 

Most reasonable people will recognise that the decision to alter the grade boundary was unfair. We gave Ofqual and the exam boards the opportunity to re-grade last month but their failure to do so means we have no other option but to progress our legal action. 

We are still hopeful that the exam boards will see sense and re-grade before it goes any further. We believe we have a strong case and are willing to see this through so that justice is done for our young people.

Young Mayor Elections on Thursday

The 9th Young Mayor of Lewisham will be elected next week. Over the past decade, the programme has allowed thousands of young people to influence the council’s decision making and helped us to focus on the issues that most affect young people. 

Each year, the Young Mayor has a £30,000 budget to spend on projects across the borough. In the past few years, the money has helped to fund projects to encourage young entrepreneurs, promote young people’s safety and alternative sports provision. 

At this week’s Mayor and Cabinet we approved the budget for the year ahead. The current Young Mayor, Kieran Lang, and some of his Young Advisors expertly outlined their proposals, which include running healthy eating cooking classes, campaigning on the dangers to skating and supporting young people’s mental health through peer to peer mentoring. 

The Young Mayor promotes a positive role for young people across the borough, challenging negative stereotypes that are often placed on them. I’m delighted that the role has provide the opportunity for a number of previous Young Mayors to appear on television and newspapers as spokespeople for their peers. 

A recent highlight was to see Kieran proudly carrying the Olympic torch during the relay through Lewisham. He’d been nominated by Doreen Lawrence, who passed the torch on to him, and was thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in such an historic event. 

See the candidates manifestos on You Tubehere.

Lewisham and the Living wage

The case for paying a Living Wage is based on both principles of basic fairness and good employment practice. I spoke about this in a session on the Living Wage alongside Rachel Reeves MP at Labour Party Conference earlier this week, where it was announced that more and more Labour councils across the country are adopting it as a policy. 

Lewisham adopted the London Living Wage in 2009 – something that received unanimous support inside the Town Hall and from Churches, Trade Unions and Citizens groups outside. We were proud to one of the first two boroughs in London along with Islington to be accredited as Living Wage Employers earlier this year. 

Our challenge was not about our directly employed staff – we are a responsible employer and already paid the Living wage – the challenge was and is to deliver a living wage for those people employed by the Council’s service contractors.

Over the last three years as each major contract has come up for renewal we have sought to establish that these should be let on a living wage basis and provide value for money.

The one area where we have experienced real resistance is Residential Care and as we address the challenge of funding social care in the future we must also address the need to pay the staff who deliver it properly.

To date well over 1000 workers in Lewisham have been brought up to the London Living Wage with consequential impacts on their morale and productivity. Many of them are also our residents and I have no doubt that much of their extra income goes into the local economy.

The damage that poverty wages does to individuals and their families is immense – ill-health, inadequate housing and the life chances of the next generation are not matters that responsible public bodies can ignore. As a local authority we are deeply involved in dealing with the consequences of unfair low pay – it would be absurd if we did not also seek to be an exemplar for other local employers in our own practice.

I congratulate those employers both public and private that are adopting Living Wage policies and I know that many of our local partners are also looking carefully at Living Wage policies. 

In Lewisham we are now trying to deliver a joint contract for a number of boroughs on a Living Wage basis – if we are successful it will be another important step forward in all our efforts to ensure that fair wages become the norm not the exception. 

You can read Rachel Reeves’ speech on the Living Wage to the conference here.