Last Saturday, in a show of solidarity, l joined the huge demo in Lewisham over the proposed closure of the A&E at Lewisham Hospital. The banner which caught my eye the most during the demo was one saying “We can bail out the banks but not the hospitals”. It makes the point well. Indeed, the banks were bailed out for hundreds of billions of pounds whilst hospitals are asking for a relatively small proportion of that sum – tens of millions to help them survive.
In the case of Lewisham Hospital, the problem stems from the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which the South London Health Trust (SLHT) entered into to redevelop two other hospitals. The government plans are to save the PFI by sacrificing Lewisham Hospital.
The point about PFIs started me thinking. In London, we had similar private finance procurement brought back into the public domain. Yes, it was a Tory Mayor; Boris Johnson who brought the PPP on the tube up-grade back in-house after the government imposed the contract on TfL. So why can’t the same be done with PFIs? After all, it’s not as though the British banking fraternity doesn’t owe us a few favours! What we need is for the Trusts to opt out of these PFIs with are saddled with huge annual fees and which cut into the operating costs of the hospitals. If Government policy centred more on saving hospitals, rather then closing them down, as it did with the banks, these proposals would look a lot less like an ideological drive towards reducing public services.
We will hear this afternoon the fate of Lewisham A&E from the State of Secretary for Health, Jeremy Hunt. It is clearly a much loved and well run emergency service. The recommendation to close this special service from the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) should be thrown out as Lewisham which is not even part of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, is being targeted in a re-organisation of services across the area following the trust’s financial problems. If the Secretary of State does follow the TSA recommendation it will rightly face a legal challenge by Lewisham Council.
For further information on the PFI arrangement, analysis of it within the South London Health Trust (SLHT) and the impact on Lewisham hospital, please visit www.PeopleBeforeProfit.org.uk.