Thousands of marchers wielding placards and umbrellas wound their way through Lewisham in south east London today, Saturday, to defend their local health services.
“I’ve never seen people this angry, or this united,” said Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock. Organisers estimated up to 15,000 joined the march—including health workers, patients and families.
Lewisham hospital faces losing its maternity service, newly refurbished A&E and more as a result of toxic PFI debts at a nearby NHS trust.
This, combined with other cuts in the area, will leave just one A&E for 750,000 people—forcing many patients to travel the better part of an hour for treatment.
“People will turn up here with life threatening illnesses and we’ll have to turn them away,” A&E nurse Kathy told Socialist Worker. “The extra time it would take to get to another hospital could be the time needed to save someone’s life.”
Medical secretary Pam said the effect of the closures would be “disastrous” and “the worst thing that could happen to the borough”.
“Lewisham is a large and multicultural borough,” she added. “It needs a general hospital with all the facilities. It isn’t fair that PFI companies can take advantage of hospitals and put them in debt.”
Health workers have been at the heart of the campaign, which has reached into every corner of the local working class. Fiona Craggs, who organises a local Brownie pack, said even her 7 to 10 year old charges “know exactly what’s happening and are absolutely disgusted by it”.
Marcher Christine Nash added, “It’s ludicrous that money is going to the private companies. They need to go back and discuss the debt instead of making cuts. My daughter-in-law is down to give birth at Lewisham hospital—let’s hope it’s still there!”
The back of the march didn’t get into Ladywell Fields next to the hospital until long after the front had completely encircled the hospital to symbolise people’s determination to defend it.
They were accompanied by a brass band playing “Bella Ciao”, a health workers’ choir and a cacophony of horns from passing traffic.
More than 100 health workers met after the demonstration to discuss further actions. A&E nurse Dan said that demonstration had been “phenomenal”.
“Our job is hard, and to see that level of public support was just emotionally overwhelming,” he added. “Now we’re calling on all patients and supporters to do everything they can in the public consultation on the cuts.”
The public consultation is ongoing, as is the anti-cuts campaign. A mass a public meeting is planned for Wednesday of this week.