Lewisham resident Chris Knight reports on the campaign to save the local hospital
As we go to press, what promises to be a massive Save Lewisham Hospital demonstration is scheduled for 26 January, the eve of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision on the hospital’s future and that of the South London Health Trust. Everyone expects Hunt to prove true to form, endorsing the NHS Trust administrator’s recommendation to close Lewisham A&E and force us to travel instead to the bankrupt Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, already overstretched.
The background? South London Healthcare NHS Trust had two hospitals built in Woolwich and Bromley. The building costs were just £210 million, but owing to PFI, the Trust was forced to pay £500 million over the past ten years – and still owes £2 billion! Because South London couldn’t pay its repayments it went bankrupt and a special administrator was brought in. When money is supposedly ‘owed’, it’s not abstract: that money is owed to somebody. In this case, the criminals in question are Barclays Private Equity, Taylor Woodrow and Innisfree – they paid for the hospitals to be built and are being paid back ten times over. The buildings won’t even belong to the NHS when the payments are completed!
One small detail: an almost unknown City company, Innisfree, with only 14 staff, is the main culprit not only in Lewisham but across the country, owning or co-owning 269 PFI schools and 28 hospitals. According to accounts filed at Companies House, Innisfree’s profit margin was 53% last year. A successful FTSE 100 company makes margins of around 6%. David Metter, the founder and chief executive of Innisfree, owns almost three quarters of the company and collected pay and dividends of £8.6 million last year.
What can we do? Well, yes, demonstrate. But we need to go further. What’s needed, surely, is mass direct action against the loan sharks. Occupy their buildings! Clog up their communications! Make their lives impossible! You may think that occupying Payday loan shops in Peckham on 9 March (see page 4) is a quite different story, but it’s not. In the US, the ‘strike debt’ movement started small; then it began to roll. Comrades, connect up the dots. Where are the head offices of Innisfree?