This weekend I will join thousands of people to march against the proposed closure of the Accident & Emergency and Maternity Unit at Lewisham Hospital. Lewisham’s Labour MPs and Labour Mayor have supported local campaigners and worried residents to try and persuade the government to change course on this disastrous proposal.
The reasons given for closing these two vital services do not stack up. The proposal to close the hospital’s successful A&E and maternity unit is for short-term financial reasons alone. The consultation does not take into account the longer term impact closure would have on a large area of South London, including Lambeth and Southwark. Lewisham contains some of the most deprived communities in London and it is vital that they have access to high quality NHS services.
Between 2001 and 2010, the population of Lewisham grew by 15,700, or 6.2%. Lewisham is the 15th most ethnically diverse borough in England with 2 out of every 5 resident coming from a black and minority ethnic background. As a South London borough, similar to Lambeth where I’m a councillor, it is no surprise that the largest BME groups are Black African and Black Caribbean – together these two groups comprise around 30% of the total population of Lewisham.
The catchment area of Lewisham Hospital has a high population of sickle cell patients who require outpatient treatment and A&E support to help treat this disease which affects people of African heritage. The Lewisham PCT Public Health report estimates that this 30% of the Lewisham Population (79,468 people) have a higher rate of sickle cell disease at birth than in any other area in the UK (GLA Round Ethnic Group Population Projections). Lewisham Hospital currently has a specialist Clinical Nurse Specialist who monitors both ward and A&E attendance of the Sickle Cell Patients, helping the patients and their families to plan any additional care, referrals or hospital admissions.
The recommendations as proposed by the Trust Special Administrator appointed to lead the review states that there will be a 15% drop in outpatient activity if the proposed closure of the A&E and maternity unit go ahead. The official reply to the consultation by leading Emergency Department Consultations slams these figures and states:
“the draft report is based on demonstrably incorrect figures and assumptions, its findings cannot be relied upon”
Why am I interested in how Sickle Cell patients will be effected if the A&E and Maternity Unit close at Lewisham Hospital? Because my mother suffers from Sickle Cell Anaemia and I have acted as her carer for most of my life.
Trying to explain the disease to people can sometimes be difficult. There is still not enough awareness about the disease outside the BME community. I recall when my mother was suddenly taken ill when we were out shopping in the West End. She was suffering from intense pain and my sisters and I were trying to explain to the staff that she needed urgent hospital treatment and for them to call an ambulance. They didn’t understand when we tried to explain that she was having a ‘crisis’ because as far as they were concerned, she didn’t show any visible signs of bleeding or injury.
I also remember the summer of 1997 after my GCSEs when my mother fell ill and suffered a crisis whilst we were visiting my aunt in Lewisham. The care and support she received from the A&E department was second to none; the doctors had a full understanding of the disease and treatment that my mother needed.
The data from the Lewisham PCT Public Health report highlights the fact that there are more admissions from women sufferers of Sickle Cell, so women will be disproportionately affected by any proposals to close the A&E department. Kings College Hospital have a team of dedicated staff who care for Sickle Cell patients, but they will be stretched beyond the limit in dealing with additional patients from Lewisham if this closure goes ahead as planned.
I urge everybody from the BME community as well as others to join the campaign to save this vital service. The chances are you will know somebody who suffers from Sickle Cell and so it is important that we raise awareness about what’s happening. The proposals will not only affect Lewisham residents, but a wide catchment area across South London. We have to campaign together to send a message to the Government not to dismantle vital NHS services for some of the most deprived communities in our country.
Florence Nosegbe is a Councillor in Brixton Hill Ward Councillor, Lambeth