Nurses joined the general public in a march on Saturday against plans to close the accident and emergency department at Lewisham Hospital in south London.
The rally on 24 November was organised by the “Save Lewisham Hospital Group”. It was attended by several thousand people and possibly as many as 10,000, according to union estimates.
The closure of Lewisham’s A&E, and potentially its maternity unit as well, forms part of a package of radical proposals to restructure hospital services across South East London.
They were sparked by the financial collapse of the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust. In July it became the first NHS organisation to be put into administration after running up debts of more than £150m since 2009.
A Trust Special Administer, who was put in charge of running of South London, published proposals on the future sustainability of health services across South East London in late October, which warned the scale of the problems there meant neighbouring trusts would have to be involved in the solution, including Lewisham.
This is despite Lewisham having met its performance and financial targets, and the trust’s A&E department having reopened only six months ago after a refit.
Unison branch secretary Conroy Lawrence said: “We are overwhelmed by the response of the local community, that in incessant rain over 10,000 people from all parts of the community would attend is truly inspiring to the staff at the hospital.
“This campaign has the full support of the medical, nursing and professional staff.”
Mike Davey, the union’s nursing representative at Lewisham Hospital, added that he was “confident that if the community can make its voice heard now, then significant changes can be secured”.
Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust backed the rally. A trust spokesman said: “We welcome the support of local people, who share our pride in the trust’s high quality services.
“We recognise that the NHS faces pressures, and hard decisions will be made. However, we do not feel that a prescriptive approach to service change is right.”
A public consultation on the proposals will close on 13 December. A decision on whether to proceed with the plans is expected to be made in February by the health secretary.
The trust spokesperson added: “We are encouraging staff, patients and local people to play an active role in the Trust Special Administrator’s public consultation.”
The board of Lewisham Healthcare will also be submitting a formal response to the plans separately.