The fight to save Lewisham Hospital goes on

The Secretary of State has ridden roughshod over the people of Lewisham with his announcement about the future of Lewisham Hospital earlier today. Jeremy Hunt has ignored the opinions of local people, local GPs and hospital staff who made clear their opposition in their thousands at the weekend. He has pressed ahead regardless by downgrading maternity services and emergency services at the Hospital. 

I have said all along that I believe the TSA’s proposals relating to Lewisham are dangerous and unsafe. It remains to be seen whether the revised proposals to allow Lewisham Hospital to retain its ability to admit patients with less serious conditions and to remain open as a working A&E department will offer any improvement on the originals. We will need to talk to our colleagues at Lewisham Hospital in order to fully understand the implications of Mr Hunt’s statement. 

The proposals relating to the maternity unity have remained the same however, and I do not think they are in the best interests for the people of Lewisham. To have a mid-wife led maternity unit without the support from obstetrics is of great concern. 

I wrote to the Secretary of State last week to tell him that I do not believe that the TSA had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the Secretary of State therefore has no power to implement them. I will be talking with our lawyers to see whether there is any action we can take. I am clear that this is not the end of the matter and hope that we can find a way to retain both the A&E and maternity services at the hospital.

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Local Government Needs Greater Freedom From Westminster

In a report published today, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has called for more autonomy and fiscal powers for local government in England. The Committee, chaired by Graham Allen MP, has called for a new ‘code of relations’ between central and local government.

The new code sets out a series of principles for the relationship, including that local government should be independent of central government, able to exercise a range of tax-raising powers suitable to the needs of the local community, and that government, of all levels, should be appropriately consultative and accountable to its people.

I am fully supportive of the aims of this report. For some time now I have argued that local government needs to be given greater freedom from Westminster, allowing local people a greater say as to how their community is run.

The balance of power between local and central government has shifted significantly over the past 30 years. Successive governments have enacted centralising policies to the detriment of local decision making. From education to housing, planning to the frequency of bin collections, central government has sought to place restrictions on the choices that councils can make.

In particular, the need for councils to have independence over our finances is paramount to ensure we are providing the services and facilities that our local citizens deserve. Our accountability to the local electorate means that local government is best placed to provide, directly or indirectly, local public services not explicitly reserved to other public bodies.

Local government, and with it local democracy, would be reinvigorated by the changes proposed by the Committee. Allowing local people to decide how revenue should be raised, money should be spent and how their representatives are elected could engage citizens in ways we have not seen before and provide local government with much greater legitimacy.

Whilst it comes as no surprise that Eric Pickles has already rejected the recommendations made by the Committee, it is still disappointing. I can only hope that in the future we will have a Secretary of State who does not view local government with derision and is willing to embrace the ideas contained in this report.

2013 – THE YEAR AUSTERITY HITS THE FRONTLINE

Last week three announcements were made that will have a severe impact on public services in Lewisham, two of which are of a direct result of the government’s austerity policies.

The first was the publication of the TSA’s recommendations for the future of Lewisham Hospital, which recommended closing the A&E department and making drastic changes to the maternity unit. I’ve stated before my opposition to the proposals and will be standing alongside Lewisham residents at the march on 26 January as we take our fight to Jeremy Hunt. 

The Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) then announced it was to close 65 front counters across London, including the police stations in Sydenham and Brockley. Boris Johnson also published his revised policing plan, which will mean Lewisham has 24 fewer police officers in 2015 than in 2010, while Lambeth will have lost as many as 157! I am concerned about the impact of these police cuts on the borough, and will be raising these with Stephen Greenhalgh, the Deputy Mayor for Policing. He’ll be coming to Lewisham Town Hall to explain his plans on 28 January, you can find out more information here 

Finally, the London Fire Brigade have announced plans to close Downham and New Cross Fire Stations as part of their savings proposals. In total, 12 fire stations will be closed in the capital. There are a number of other stations affected in South East London, including Peckham and Woolwich, and I am worried about the cumulative impact of these changes on the safety of residents in our corner of London. Labour’s team on the Greater London Assembly are challenging Boris on these proposals, and as a Council we intend to raise our own concerns about the impact on local people. 

These three proposals will result in a serious erosion of emergency services in Lewisham. Cuts to the Police and Fire Service are as a direct result of the government’s austerity programme as both bodies have had their funding cut. For those thinking that the cuts have not been too bad, think again. 

Many of the worst cuts made by the Tory led government are about to hit. Cuts to benefits and many front line services are about to be implemented and may have far reaching consequences that have not been foreseen. In Lewisham we’re determined to protect services to the most vulnerable in our society and will be doing all we can to ensure that local people are protected from the worst of these Tory cuts.

BBC Question Time – Lewisham Hospital Edition

BBC Question Time came to Lewisham last night, dedicating 15 minutes or so to a debate on the future of Lewisham Hospital. I’ve never seen the BBC’s flagship political debating programme lend such time to a what could be perceived as a local issue before, but I am delighted that they did. The TSA’s recommendations could have far reaching consequences for health services in other areas.

The reaction of the panel to the questions were telling. Every single member, including Lib Dem Minister Ed Davey, criticised the TSA’s report and seemed as perplexed as we are why Lewisham Hospital is being forced to pay for the failure of others.

A debate on national television should help to pile pressure on to Jeremy Hunt to make the right decision and reject the proposals in front of him. But we need to keep this up, and urge as many of you as possible to join the march in Lewisham on 26 January. For more information, visit www.savelewishamhospital.com.

TSA Final Report Published

The TSA’s final recommendations for the future of Lewisham Hospital have finally been published. As I feared the Special Administrator has ignored the voices of thousands of Lewisham residents who opposed his plans to close the hospital’s A&E and tear apart the Maternity service. These were seriously flawed proposals in draft and they remain seriously flawed and dangerous proposals.

The report makes it clear just how united local people are in opposition to these proposals – 96% of Lewisham residents who responded to the consultation said they were opposed to the closure of the A&E. This is simply astonishing. 

It would appear from the final report that our concerns are not misplaced. It tells us that just 50% of those currently attending Lewisham’s A&E would continue to be treated there if the proposals go ahead – significantly below the previous claim of 77% in the draft report. I am concerned that such a huge change in this figure has had no impact on the final proposals and remain unconvinced that the Special Administrator has adequately addressed where those no longer being treated in Lewisham will go. 

The Secretary of State now has until 1 February to make his final decision. It’s vital that between now and then we make him aware of how strong the public anger at these proposals are. I will be joining the march through Lewisham on 26 January and I encourage everyone who can to join me. You can find out further information on the Save Lewisham Hospital campaigns website.

You can view the report here