LEWISHAM Hospital campaigners are back in court today to fight an appeal by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Earlier this year, the council and campaign group successfully fought government plans to downgrade Lewisham's A&E and maternity services following the financial collapse of neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust

But, despite a petition urging him not to waste more public money, Mr Hunt decided to take the case to the Court of Appeal, where a two day hearing commenced on Monday.

Initial legal arguments centered around whether the trust special administrator who first suggested the downgrade was acting outside of his powers. The previous court judgement by Mr Justice Silber found he had and ruled that the plans were therefore "unlawful".

And the hearing comes after the government put forward an amendment to the Care Bill which would give administrators sweeping powers to shut services in neighbouring hospitals.

Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock said: "The attempt by the government to sneak through a fundamental change to the way changes are made to local hospitals is simply undemocratic. If these amendments become law no hospital will be safe even if it is financially stable and providing good quality services. 

"That was the position that Lewisham Hospital was in when they were targeted in order to bail out a failing trust nearby. There was no warning and no consultation."

And Jos Bell from the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign said: "Whilst a move of this kind by the government was anticipated, the timing is very significant.

"This is an unprecedented attempt to attack hospital services in manner which will leave communities bereft. They hoped a win against Lewisham would set this in motion, but so far they have not succeeded in getting their own way against a year-long fight. 

"Now, to keep their options open they are trying to push these sweeping changes through Parliament - which if they succeed, will mean that any hospital in England could be at risk of closure."