Lewisham Hospital – a little local problem?

Cross-posted from Lewisham NUJ

BBC’s Question Time, memorably described by economics journalist Chris Dillow as “… a zoo in which soundbites are vomited into an audience who clap like hyperactive seals”, was yesterday staged in our manor, Lewisham. Given current local difficulties with health service trusts, and the threatened closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department and maternity unit, leaving just one emergency room in a neighbouring borough to cover three quarters of a million residents, locals turned out in force hoping to hear the invited pundits discuss the issue. The Twittersphere was ablaze, with many contributing a running commentary to the programme.

Much of the game show serious political debate was given over to Nadine Dorries’ televised escapades on “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!”, and associated parliamentary absence without leave. When in the final 10 minutes of the programme the subject of Lewisham Hospital came up, chairman David Dimbleby attempted to steer the conversation from the specific to the abstract, the sublime to the banal.

Times correspondent Camilla Cavendish was having none of this, and directly addressed points made by Lewisham residents sitting in the Question Time audience. At the same time “Mad Nad” Dorries acted out of character in defending the Conservative-led government, while John Prescott sat there like the waste of space he has become since taking on the ermine stole. Labour bloggers openly expressed their embarrassment at the inaction of the former deputy prime minister.

Interventions from the floor were robust and substantive, as they have been from local people throughout the public consultation over proposed changes in the operation of local health trusts put forward by government-appointed administrator Matthew Kershaw. Yet Kershaw has the nerve to claim falsely that none of the formal responses to the public consultation offered alternatives to what he has recommended to Jeremy Hunt. As for the health secretary, he has refused to meet with Lewisham residents, preferring instead to communicate exclusively with fellow MPs.

Public consultation is a cornerstone of representative democracy, and the legitimacy of the democratic process depends on consultation having real value. If decisions have already been made in advance of consultation exercises, what point is there in members of the public and interest groups giving of their valuable time and other resources?

In this case the answer is little, and people are left with no option but to take to the streets. And so it goes, with another demonstration scheduled for Saturday 26 January. The previous march and rally included a small contingent of Lewisham NUJ members and their responsible children. I call on all of you opposed to the Lewisham A&E and maternity unit closure plan to come out on the demonstration and make your voice heard.