MORE than 60 mums and their children staged a protest at the Department of Health today against proposals to axe Lewisham Hospital's A&E and maternity services - as thousands prepare to march at the weekend.

Administrator Matthew Kershaw has proposed the closures to help solve the financial problems left by the meltdown of the South London Healthcare Trust. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to decide on the proposals next week.

Consultant obstetrician Ruth Cochrane said: "Lewisham currently has full maternity services and it is wonderful to see that so many local mothers have come out to support the trust. 

"Proposals to downgrade these services and to have a midwife-led birth centre – without the back-up provided by full obstetric services - are just not safe. 

"If women experience a complication during childbirth they would have to be transferred from Lewisham to King's Hospital or to Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, both of which are simply too far."

Mum-of-three  Jessica Ormerod, chairwoman of Lewisham’s Maternity Services Liaison Committee said: "Lewisham Hospital is not part of South London Healthcare, but is being asked to lose vital services because of financial problems elsewhere. 

"Local GPs and healthcare professionals have said this is unsafe with dangerous consequences, but the government’s special administrator has refused to listen to their views.  Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, is making his final decision by February 1, so it is important he sees how local people feel."

During a parliamentary debate on the issue this morning, Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander branded the proposals unfair and unsafe.

She said: "Over 4,000 babies are born each year at Lewisham. There has been an 11% increase in the number of births at the hospital over the last 5 years and the birth rate is rising.  Unlike other health services, maternity care cannot be rationed or restricted.

"Nationally, we are witnessing the highest birth rate for 40 years – particularly high in places like Lewisham – and the Government wants to close a popular, much-needed maternity department.

"Maternity services in South London are under enormous pressures.

"In the 20 months between April 2011 and November 2012, providers of maternity services across South East London suspended services on 37 occasions. This means women in labour were turned away from hospitals and told they would have to go elsewhere.

"Of these 37 suspensions, 26 of them were necessary because of lack of beds. Kings College Hospital also tried to suspend services on a further six occasions but were unable to do so as no other unit had capacity to accept the women who they were trying to transfer. Just a few weeks ago, both Kings and Woolwich were sending women to Lewisham to give birth."


Thousands to protest this weekend

The protest comes ahead of a mass demonstration where thousands are expected to march through Lewisham on Saturday (Jan 26) in a final show of opposition.

Campaigners are urging as many people as possible to come out and eclipse even the 15,000 estimated to have marched late last year.

Jos Bell from the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign said: "This is the big chance for the people of Lewisham and elsewhere who will be directly affected, whose families will be affected, whose life chances will be affected by these dangerous proposals, to show their opposition."

Protestors will meet at Loampit Vale at 12pm on Saturday before heading down past the hospital and gathering in Mountsfield Park.

Vist for details.

Five reasons to march on Saturday

- Lewisham Hospital was not even part of the health trust which went bust, but is paying the price.

- The consultation last year made no mention of selling off around half the hospital land.

- Lewisham would be left with one midwife-led maternity unit, despite having a rising birth rate.

- Winter has already seen pressure put on A&Es across the area. What will happen if another one closes?

- Following all the administrator's recommendations, apart from the Lewisham changes, would leave a shortfall of only £1.7m.