Campaigners against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's decision to take an axe to Lewisham hospital staged a flash protest last night, vowing to keep fighting both in and out of the courts.
The minister sparked a furious reaction today as he ignored a 25,000-strong protest march and 50,000-signature petition to announce the trashing of Lewisham's A&E and maternity departments in part-payment of a neighbouring trust's PFI debts.
As news came through today afternoon calls for renewed protests at the hospital and nearby station went viral online and the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign declared its intent to take Mr Hunt to court rather than allow damaging cuts.
Save Lewisham Campaign chairwoman Louise Irvine said: "It's time to build on what we have and mount the biggest-ever defence of a local hospital. The legal fight will begin, with the council, and the campaign will take this forward in many other ways."
Mr Hunt's decision came in response to an overhaul at South London Healthcare Trust proposed by special administrator Matthew Kershaw.
The minister agreed to dissolve the trust by October 1 with its three hospitals - Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, Queen Mary's in Sidcup and the Princess Royal in Bromley - being taken over by unconfirmed neighbouring trusts.
He stopped short of closing Lewisham's A&E department entirely, as proposed by Mr Kershaw, instead opting for "a smaller A&E service with 24/7 senior emergency cover."
The unit will continue to be able to serve some of the 750,000 local Lewisham residents but potentially hundreds of thousands, including those with more serious conditions, will be forced to travel up to half an hour to the next nearest A&E.
He also said the maternity unit at Lewisham would be replaced by a midwife-led facility.
The Unite union's head of health Rachael Maskell said: "Mr Hunt is creating chaos so that the NHS fails which will then be used as justification for a mass privatisation programme - the central tenet of the Health and Social Care Act."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the decision to downgrade Lewisham's services set a "dangerous precedent" for other hospitals.
Even Tory MPs rounded on Mr Hunt's plans, with Beckenham MP Bob Stewart questioned the financial figures Mr Hunt was using to justify the decision.
The GMB union is calling on MPs to organise a binding vote in Parliament to stop Mr Hunt implementing the decisions on the grounds that lives will be put "significantly at risk."
And Unison warned there are currently around 34 A&E departments across the country that could be closed or downgraded.
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