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October 26, 2021

MPs and Local Councillor join protest against NHS patient charging

Members of Parliament and a Local Councillor joined over a dozen people gathered outside Lewisham Hospital on Saturday to protest the fourth year of harmful charging practices within the NHS.

As part of Patients Not Passports’ Week of Action, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, organised the protest outside of Lewisham Hospital.

The groups were joined by supporters as they all stood to protest the harmful charging practices in the NHS, which see vulnerable people facing thousands of pounds worth of debt for receiving healthcare.

Individuals in scrubs posed alongside a UK Border sign, indicating that staff unwillingly become border guards in their roles as healthcare workers.

Speakers addressed the crowd, sharing the experiences of many patients impacted by the charging practices, as well as calling for a stop to charging in the NHS.

Janet Daby, MP for Lewisham East, joined the protest. Addressing the crowd, she spoke about inequalities in healthcare. She said that these “gross inequalities cause so much tragedy and pain.” and offered thanks for the campaign, which raised awareness.

Vicky Foxcroft MP also attended the protest, as did Councillor Tauseef Anwar. He spoke about the previous day’s welcoming of Little Amal in Deptford, speaking about the need to support migrants and refugees in the same way she was welcomed.

He said that receiving Amal was a “protest against the policy of [Home Secretary] Priti Patel, that we are not accepting this hostile environment in Lewisham.”

Rosario Guimba-Stewart, CEO of LRMN, said: “We want a healthcare system that protects, nurtures and cares, not one that punishes people for needing help. Our NHS should be, and could be, a place of sanctuary for those who need help the most.”

“We want a healthcare system that protects, nurtures and cares, not one that punishes people for needing help.”

Tony O’Sullivan, from the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign spoke about the numbers of people facing charges. “There’s over 200,000 children who are not entitled to free NHS care when they need it.”

Protestors laid flowers in memory of those who had lost their lives due to fears of accessing healthcare, such as Elfreda Spencer. They also honoured the many people, many of them local, that had suffered as a result of charging.

In one testimonial, the crowd heard about one patient’s experience of charging. The testimonial was read out on the patient’s behalf. They said: “I was regarded as homeless at the time, and living in supported accommodation, no income. When I opened the letter about my charges I screamed… I felt so overwhelmed, I felt weak at the knees. I felt so helpless and was screaming and crying at the foot of the stairs…. I didn’t have £15,480 but I wanted to call to show that I wasn’t running away.”

This protest is part of a long term local campaign for Lewisham and Greenwich Trust to improve its approach to charging. After it emerged that the Trust was actively pursuing people to charge, and sharing this data with the Home Office, Save Lewisham Hospital and LRMN campaigned for an inquiry into the practices at the hospitals. This inquiry recently led to 39 recommendations that aim to make charging at Lewisham and Greenwich Trust more equitable, compassionate, and kind, and an apology from the Trust about the trauma caused by these practices.

If you would like to get involved in the campaign, get in touch!