Friday, June 07, 2013

The Battle to Save - St Leonards Hospital (Hackney)

Demonstration 26th September 1983

St Leonard's, (Hackney) Hospital Occupation 3rd July 1984 - 16th July 1984

In 1979 despite opposition in the form of a day of action and a a march attended by over one thousand people, St Leonard's Hospital (Hackney) A and E Department was closed.

By the early 1980's the future of the whole hospital was looking bleak, by late 1983 the Health Authority was actively looking to close the hospital under pressure from a Conservative Government keen to make cuts. A large rally was organised to oppose closure plans on 26th September 1983  addressed by Rodney Bickerstaffe  NUPE General Secretary and Tony Benn MP, 

At a Health Authority meeting to ratify the cuts and closures at Hackney Town hall on that day ( 26th September 1983) the Health Authority and its multi millionaire, Jockey Club chairman Louis Freedman were overwhelmed in a turbulent day of protest culminations in them being forced to abandon the meeting after the town hall surrounded by thousands of angry locals opposing the closure plans,   

As Millionaire President Louis Freedman refused to use his casting vote to settle the closure issue, demonstrates demanded increasingly vocally that he use his vote (To save the hospital) in his prevaricate to vote the doors to the Council chamber were barred and padlocked after a 20 minute stand off he was escorted out of the building with the help of local Labour MP Brian Sedgemore.

Freeman who lived in a central London penthouse and had private health insurance said in the Daily Mail "We might as well be living in a dictatorship"

The incident was labelled a riot in the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror, and while their was an attempt to keep the Board members in the meeting and to stop them voting in private, not one person was reported as being injured on either side.

The disturbance was carried on all the main news channels that night and newspapers the next day and ensured health moved nationally up the political agenda.

On the 7th June 1984 Norman Fowler, Tory Secretary of State announced his decision to close all wards and remove all beds at St Leonard's and leave just a first aid unit and  a handful of community based services.

 In response a small working group was established by the staff and Hackney health emergency  to look into the possibility of the 180 staff working at St Leonard's organising an occupation or work-in of the hospital

A decision was made to occupy the hospital on the 3rd July 1984

The occupation was ratified by a staff meeting of eighty staff on 4th July

But by the  5th July (NHS Day) the management had somehow managed to secure and issue writs and summons against the key stewards. As NUPE had not made the occupation official, and fearing an injunction (similar to that used against the Miners) NUPE officers removed NUPE placards and began to distance themselves from the occupation..
The legal situation must have been worrying for staff and the union,  because it was against the backdrop of anti union legislation which was still confusing and unstable. 
So on the 16th July management reposed the hospital, sending in security staff  and bailiffs (probably illegally) to end the occupation.

In the next three days management systematically interviewed staff and reps and suspended key stewards.

However, local trade unionists organised  a picket line has been maintained 24 hours a day outside the hospital and the drivers from the London Ambulance Station  refused to move the patients out

Not satisfied with victimising local  union representatives,and intimidating other members of staff involved in in the occupation, the management also seem to have gone out of their way to make life uncomfortable as possible for the patients remaining in the hospital (who refused to move, by threatening legal action).

After the Occupation was smashed and in order to proceed with their closure plans against management employed a whole private army of security guards.
This gang of mercenaries, as one local campaigner described them, cost the Health Authority almost £1,000 a day, money which was desperately needed to restore the crumbling services in the District.

There were also horrific reports of frail, elderly patients being bundled out in the early morning or late at night, driven to other hospitals, torn away from staff they knew and their possessions being sent on much later because they hadn't been told they were to be permanently moved.

So ended another brave attempt to defend the peoples health service in Hackney.


Hospital Closurers

Poplar Hospital closed in 1975
Metropolitan Hospital closed in 1976
Plaistow Maternity hospital closed in 1977 (after an occupation)
Invalid and Crippled Cchildren's hospital closed 1977
Bethnal Green Hospital 1978 (Occupation June 1976-Dec 1978) saved

Key NUPE People involved

Dorothy Hardon NUPE Area Officer
Ian Barber NUPE Area Officer
Jim Bewsher NUPE Area Officer
Harry Barker NUPE London Divisional Officer
Godfry Eastwood NUPE Asst London Divisional Officer

Morris Kollander NUPE Branch Secretary St Barts
Mike Gamble NUPE Secretary Group Six Hospitals

Geoff Craig NUPE Steward