200 strong angry NHS meeting in South East London

Ian Crosson reports:

200 people packed into a meeting called by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign in Charlton, south east London, on Thursday night.

It was the first joint public meeting called by campaigners against cuts and privatisation at Lewisham Hospital, their counterparts around Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, and other health campaigners from across the south east London region.

Consultant radiologist and healthcare activist Jacky Davis gave an overview of the crisis facing the NHS. “When a government turns against a people, it is time for a revolution,” she said.

This was echoed by Bexley GP Bob Gill, who spoke powerfully of the crisis caused by cuts and changes in funding arrangement. These were hitting patient care now and we need to fight now, he said.

Teresa Pearce, Labour MP for Erith & Thamesmead, admitted that Labour had made “mistakes” when they were in government and had opened the doors to the current NHS crisis that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are using to wreck the service. £1 in every £3 spent on services in the NHS is now outsourced and ends up in private hands.

The audience gave Teresa Pearce a tough time. They demand that Labour repeals last year’s Health and Social Care Act.

One member demanded the cancellation of all PFI debts – which won a round of applause. People demanded Labour insist the NHS be exempt from a proposed EU/US free trade agreement, which threatens to completely wreck the NHS. 

Charlotte Munro, a Unison activist at Whipps Cross hospital in east London, gave a moving account of how she had been hounded out of the hospital for campaigning against cuts to services and staff. This was despite having won an award from the hospital for her campaigning role. 

Other heathworkers also spoke about the culture of fear over what might happen if they spoke out. Meetings like these give confidence to healthworkers and trade union activists. They feel emboldened to campaign. And this keeps pressure on the Labour Party. It all helps defend the NHS and stop the impending destruction of the service. 

Background: the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign

Campaigners in Lewisham have battled for 14 months to stop the closure of A&E services, maternity services and other detrimental changes.

Save Lewisham Hospital has organised two huge local demos, of 10.000 in November 2012 and 25,000 in January 2013. It fought – and may have defeated – government plans to merge Lewisham and Queen Elizabeth to pay off the huge private finance debts at the latter.

The campaign has prevented the closure of Lewisham’s A&E and serious downgrading of maternity services. It won a ruling in the courts in October that the merger of two separate health trusts could not be forced on them by the government.

Sadly the government is trying to overturn this ruling by introducing a new law, Clause 118. This will allow Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt to force mergers through without even consulting local people or bodies. 

Another victory is more recent. The merged NHS trust board decided to reject a bid from Serco to take over its procurement department.

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