A LEGAL battle is expected after the health secretary announced Lewisham Hospital's A&E and maternity services should be downgraded - ignoring protests from thousands of people.

Despite a 50,000 signature petition and a 25,000-strong protest march, Jeremy Hunt announced last week that Lewisham's A&E would become "smaller", with at least a quarter of serious cases currently seen there having to go elsewhere.

The hospital will also be stripped of its obstetrician-led maternity unit, with a midwife-led service dealing with just 10 per cent of the births currently seen at that facility.

Lewisham Council immediately began legal consultations on the reductions, made following the recommendation of administrators for the financially crippled South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) which runs hospitals in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley boroughs.

In a statement, Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock said the health secretary was "riding roughshod" over Lewisham. He said: "I do not believe that the trust special administrator had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the Secretary of State therefore has no power to implement them.

"I expect the council to begin legal action shortly.  We do, of course, need to fully analyse the Secretary of State's statement before doing so."

Lewisham's politicians and campaigners were united in their contempt for the announcement with Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock calling it "an absolute sham and a shambles."

Consultant physician Dr John O’Donogue from the hospital said: "This is a travesty – a dangerous injustice. Taking a high performing hospital out of the heart and soul of our community is nothing short of vandalism."

And joint secretary of the save Lewisham Hospital campaign Helmut Heib said: "The fight is on. This is not over – absolutely not. If they think we are just going to lie down and surrender they have another thing coming."

To download the campaign song visit bit.ly/standuplewisham

What does the announcement mean?

- SLHT will be dissolved by October. Lewisham and Woolwich's Queen Elizabeth will merge into one trust.

- Trust hospitals will have to make its share of £74.9m in savings, including job cuts.

- Parts of the hospital estate will be sold off.

- Lewisham Hospital's A&E will be reduced, serving up to 75 per cent of current cases, but not serious ones. This is very similar to the administrator's original plan to downgrade it to an urgent care centre serving 77 per cent of cases. That figure was reduced to 50 per cent after consultation.

- Lewisham's obstetric-led maternity unit will be downgraded to a midwifery service.

Jeremy Hunt's proudest political achievement

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has not always been so keen on closing hospital services.

Last week, his biography on the Conservative Party website still displayed his "proudest political achievement".

It read: "Working with local campaigners to save the Royal Surrey County Hospital's A&E department from closure.

"A 6,000-strong rally, packed public meetings and a candle-lit vigil at Parliament all forced the local Primary Care Trust to keep the area's vital resource open."

Shortly after his SLHT announcement, the page mysteriously vanished.