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Volume 46 Number 6, March 13, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

NHS in Crisis - Save Lewisham Hospital
Campaign Conference and Discussion Day

This is the concluding part of the report of the conference held by the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign at Goldsmiths College, south London, on December 5, 2015. The first part was published in Workers Weekly Internet Edition Vol. 46 No 5 March 8.

Jane Mandlik, SLHC campaigner and member of Lewisham Pensioners Forum, spoke to her paper on PFI (published on SLHC website Read Jane's paper). She outlined the history of PFI and the damaging effects of PFI on health services. The cost of PFI is a continuing burden for many hospitals. In 2013/14, nine out of the 15 most indebted Trusts had PFI schemes. PFI is now widely recognised as providing very poor value, costing nearly twice the amount of a publicly funded scheme. The cost to the taxpayer will be £80bn for hospitals that cost nearly £13bn to build. Around 100 NHS hospitals have been built through PFI, mainly under the last Labour government, but continued by subsequent governments.

She discussed possible solutions around which campaigners could organise. Her proposals were that a campaign could be organised for hospitals with PFI debts to receive subsidies and that the government renegotiate debt. Simultaneously campaigners must put their energies into promoting the NHS Bill to put an end to the privatisation of the NHS and to protect the service from TTIP and other such "free trade" agreements.

Peter Roderick talked about the NHS Bill 2015-16 tabled by Caroline Lucas MP which received a truncated debate in Parliament on March 11 in what was supposed to be its Second Reading. Peter Roderick drafted the NHS Bill with Professor Allyson Pollock. He argued that the harm being done to the NHS by the fragmentation, chaos and costs of the market can only be reversed by legislation that abolishes the NHS market and restores it as a true public service. The NHS Bill will provide the legal framework to:

Dr Gurjinder Sandhu, Consultant Ealing Hospital
In the afternoon Dr Gurjinder Sandhu of Ealing Hospital talked of the devastating plans to close four hospitals in north west London. The Ealing Hospital maternity unit has already closed and its A&E was due to close. He talked of the importance of local hospitals that were responsive to the particular needs of their local community, as Ealing was, and that the hospitals slated for closure in NW London were all in the poorest areas. He criticised the idea that the only way to ensure adequate 7-day cover is to close hospitals to concentrate services in fewer hospitals. He talked of the adverse impact of these closures on other hospitals in the area, citing the example of Northwick Park which had the worst A&E 4-hour performance in the country last year, a direct result of the closure of two A&Es in north west London.

John O'Donohue of Lewisham Hospital talked of the way government routinely misleads by abuse of statistics about increased deaths at weekends. This is used by government for a variety of purposes from justifying hospital closures to forcing a new contract on Junior Doctors. He cited research indicating that patients admitted at weekends are sicker than those admitted mid-week, and showed how the ludicrous claim by Jeremy Hunt that closing Lewisham Hospital would "save 100 lives a year" was just a back of the envelope calculation with no foundation in evidence that would stand up to scrutiny - something Sir Bruce Keogh, chief medical officer, admitted in a letter to John O'Donohue in which he said such calculations were "not an exact science".

Dr Sally Ruane of the Leicester Campaign against NHS Privatisation talked of plans to close 400 hospital beds in Leicester with the justification, as with such plans everywhere else in the country, that "community services" would replace those beds. She reviewed the research evidence on community care and said there was no evidence that it would reduce hospital admissions or be cheaper. She said that there were in fact no replacement community care beds being planned. There were concerns that transferring care from hospitals to people's homes would make it easier to privatise care and to deliver it by less well trained, supported or monitored staff which could lead to poorer quality care, which would be more difficult to identify and tackle.

Anne Drinkell of the NW London Save Our Hospitals Campaign critiqued the arguments justifying hospital closures, giving the example of the North West London "Shaping a Healthier Future" plans which involved the closure of four out of nine hospitals. She referred to the recent report by Michael Mansfield into the NW London reconfiguration which warned it would lead to dangerous deterioration in services there and calling for it to be halted. She explained how "care in the community" was a hollow idea in their area with no serious commitment to funding or staffing, no evidence that it would work and no plans to tackle the existing deficiencies in social and community care.

Dr Brian Fisher, Lewisham GP, talked about the adverse impact of austerity on health, and the crisis in social care, giving examples from Lewisham, and argued that health campaigners should take these as seriously as the attacks on the NHS itself. The issues raised by Dr Fisher as summarised in his talk are contained in the paper by Dr Brian Fisher and Dr Tony O'Sullivan (See SLHC website Read paper from Brian Fisher and Tony O'Sullivan here)

The conference ended with concluding remarks by Dr Louise Irvine, Chair of SLHC. She said that the conference had had to cover a lot of ground because the attacks on the NHS "are coming from all fronts". She said that "we have to be the real health watch - the people's health watch" ... "we have to scrutinise, ask questions and demand transparency, but more than that, we have to go on to the streets and talk to people and translate everything into a language that people can understand and that is vitally important". Louise Irvine concluded by urging people to carry on in their local groups and thanked all the speakers. Her remarks were greeted with enthusiastic applause.


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