More than 25,000 protesters on Saturday calling on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to reject “insane” proposals to close a hospital’s newly revamped A&E department.
Mr Hunt will decide by 1 February whether Lewisham Hospital in south-east London should replace its emergency department with an “urgent care” ward and turn its maternity services into a midwife-led unit.
Marching through Lewisham, campaigners said the “successful and well-run” hospital was in danger of being sacrificed to prop up a failing trust nearby.
The closures are part of a radical overhaul proposed by a special administrator in response to nearby South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) going into administration after it started losing around £1.3m a week.
But SLHT, which runs three hospitals in the capital and was the first trust to collapse, does not have responsibility for Lewisham Hospital.
Dr Louise Irvine, a local GP and chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said: “This decision is crazy and ill-thought-out.
“It is a big mistake and carries huge clinical risks of things going wrong for patients but also political risk.
“If Jeremy Hunt can close a good local hospital here, he can do it anywhere in the country - nowhere is safe,” she added.
“This is very much a national issue, there are 60 hospital trusts across the country under threat of bankruptcy, many of them very good hospitals.
“We are saying ‘look at Lewisham, if we can win then you can win’,” she said. “And even if we lose, we will keep on fighting, that is the most important thing.”
Organisers said that between 25,000 and 30,000 protesters from all over the country had marched against the closure of the A&E ward, which recently completed a £12m revamp.
Campaigners carried placards which read “Save our hospital” and sang “No ifs, no buts, no NHS cuts” as they filed past the hospital before attending speeches in nearby Mountsfield Park.
Dr Helen Tattersfield, a local GP and chair of Lewisham’s Clinical Commissioning Group, said the whole of the south-east London had got behind the protest.
Local football club Millwall FC brought forward their FA Cup fourth round tie against Aston Villa to Friday night so the game would not clash with the protest.
Dr Tattersfield said: “Millwall moved their kick-off especially so people could come on the march and they won, which is great.
“Closing Lewisham Hospital would be detrimental to Lewisham residents in a big way.
“Every single GP in Lewisham is against the closure and thinks it is the wrong decision.
“It is just bad luck that Lewisham Hospital is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The whole problem is next door in Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich, with South London Healthcare Trust.
“Taking resources from a really good hospital to prop up hospitals that are not performing well does not seem a logical solution to the problem.”
Speaking at the march, Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East, said: “It is insane that people are going to be forced to go to other hospitals which are already very, very busy.
“There is not capacity to be dealing with the people displaced from Lewisham at other hospitals nearby.
“I have a simple message for Jeremy Hunt and that is that he should listen to local GPs, he should listen to hospital doctors, he should listen to the people of Lewisham and he should do what it says in his own manifesto, which is to stop the forced closures of A&E and maternity departments.”
The reorganisation proposed by special administrator Matthew Kershaw to deal with SLHT’s collapse is intended to save around £42 million from the staff pay budget.
Previous estimates suggested those savings would include cutting 140 medical staff across the trust’s three hospitals.
Implementing the recommendations would cost around £313m, while the trust’s debts are expected to stand at £207m by March.
Earlier this month, Mr Kershaw said SLHT remained the “biggest financial problem” across the NHS.
Mike Davey, a nurse and Unison branch secretary for Lewisham hospital, thanked the public for their show of support.
“On behalf of Lewisham Hospital staff we would like to thank those that turnout to support us from the bottom of our hearts and we prledge ourselves to continue to fight this undemocratic and dangerous attempt to close Lewisham A&E Department for as long as it should take,” he said.