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What The Papers Said

12 September 2013

How one community gives hope to us all

Millwall FC's support for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has remained resolute from the start, and in Wednesday's Daily Mirror, Ros Wynne-Jones takes a look at just why this campaign has captured the imagination not only of the local community, but proved an inspiration to others much further afield too.
 
Ros Wynne Jones' Real Britain column 

How Save Lewisham Hospital campaign's astonishing community victory gives hope to us all 

At the heart of the astonishing victory by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is a little film uploaded on YouTube called "Carol and Barry's Bus Trip".

In March, Carol Brown and Barry Mills made a journey by bus across South-East London, from Lewisham Hospital to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.

Five months earlier, people in Lewisham had been told their good, popular hospital was being "downgraded", in Coalition-speak – losing vital maternity, A&E and intensive care services.

The Government wanted local people to travel to QEH, almost five miles away.

Carol and Barry's bus trip through the traffic-choked streets of London showed the journey took nearly two hours.

"I wouldn’t be here without Lewisham Hospital," says Carol, a 57-year-old former social worker whose life has twice been saved by its intensive care unit.

"So I wasn’t going to just let them shut it."

It takes an extraordinary coalition to take on the Government and win.

But on July 31, the High Court found the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, had acted unlawfully in deciding to cut services and close departments there.

Mr Justice Silber's judgment found that Hunt had acted outside his powers as Secretary of State, and in breach of the National Health Service Act 2006.

The campaign's victory is the story of committed doctors, good politicians and resourceful lawyers supported by activist groups like 38 Degrees.

But it is also the story of Carol and Barry, of the Buggy Army of mums and dads, of the local football club and the tireless energy of the Lewisham Pensioners Forum.

The bid to save Lewisham Hospital prevailed by Judicial Review in the High Court, but it was won in the community.

More than 800 people attended the first public meeting in October 2012.

In November, 15,000 marched through Lewisham in pouring rain. By January 2013, 25,000 people had joined the protest.

The Lewisham Campaign was won by retired Barbara Veale, 64, and Les Faizi, a 40-year-old electrician, who ran a campaign stall through the cold winter and hot summer at Lewisham’s historic market.

It was won by the DJ nights run by local florist Lynne Norledge and hiphop artist Question Musiq who rapped about how Lewisham A&E saved his life as a teenager with a burst appendix.

It was won by Millwall Football Club, which paid £5,000 of the legal fees and whose players wore campaign T-shirts to warm up for their FA Cup matches.

It was won by local takeaway The Delhi Bicycle – which paid for and distributed leaflets and donated food to the cause.

What Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt forgot is that people have deep and intimate connections to local hospitals, and none more than to life and death wards like maternity and intensive care.

For Carol and Barry, the downgrading of Lewisham hospital was personal. Its A&E and intensive care staff had twice saved Carol's life.

When she and Barry married this summer at Lewisham register office after 27 years together, they came into the hospital for a blessing from the chaplain.

Months earlier, he’d sat with Carol while she recovered from a perforated ulcer and, later, a stroke.

For Lewisham's doctors, the campaign was fundamentally about clinical safety.

"The plan was to set up a birthing centre at Lewisham, without any obstetrics backup," obstetrician Ruth Cochrane explains.

"We felt there was a real lack of understanding of the situation. There was a risk to mothers and babies."

Gastroenterologist John O'Donahue says it was very moving to see how much the hospital meant to the community.

"You wouldn't have been able to look yourself in the mirror if you hadn't taken up the fight," he says.

A&E's Dr Chidi Ejimofo supported the hospital in a different way – as a tenor voice in the Lewisham NHS Choir, made famous by Gareth Malone's Sing While You Work, and a key part of the campaign.

What local people found hardest to understand was that their hospital was facing closures because neighbouring hospitals were in trouble.

Their perfectly good hospital was being sacrificed to save another Trust.

For Toyin Adeyinka, who had her two-year-old son Myrion at Lewisham's maternity unit, it simply didn't make any sense.

"This is a people fight," she says. "It's not about the politics. It's about rights and wrongs."

With hospitals across the country facing closures and creeping privatisations, it really matters how Lewisham was won.

In London alone, half of A&Es face closures.

On Monday, Real Britain took the Lewisham Hospital Campaign to the TUC conference to inspire other campaigners. Its victory should provide hope to us all, to every community in the country.

Campaigner Jos Bell says Lewisham is lucky to have the backing of the local council and MPs, as well as Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. But she says the breadth of grassroots support was – and remains – critical to its success.

Local Labour MP Joan Ruddock called the triumph at Lewisham "the greatest victory for a local community campaign I have seen in my political life".

On August 21, Jeremy Hunt announced that the Government will be appealing the High Court’s decision, but the campaign is convinced it can win again.

Outside the hospital, Barry Mills remembers how the intensive care nurses told him that they had never seen a fighter like Carol.

"They'd never seen someone fight so hard to stay alive," he says.

His wife pulls herself up on to her crutches. "Well," she says, "I'm going to fight for this hospital just the same."

* Join Save Lewisham Hospital’s Victory Parade and Party in the Park this Saturday at 12pm. For details see www.savelewishamhospital.com

* The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign are holding a fundraiser at the Rivoli Ballroom opposite Crofton Park Station on Friday 27th September (from 7.30pm to midnight). There will be live bands - including the hugely popular London Function Band - a raffle, DJs and much more. 

Tickets cost £10, £5 concessions and there is an option to make a ticket donation of £20 to the campaign fund too. Tickets can be purchased via www.savelewishamhospital.com or at the Victory Parade and Party this Saturday.


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