The Independent London Newspaper
24th May 2017

‘If we make voices heard, we can save our Whittington Hospital’

    Save Our Whittington Hospital

    HOSPITAL UNDER THREAT: Campaigners to take to streets as famous faces join protest to prevent closure of A&E department. Report by Tom Foot

    Published: 4 February 2010

    DISMANTLING the Whittington Hospital would represent one of the most unpopular disruptions to the health system in decades, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of people.
    Today, patients, residents and politicians – brought together by the Camden New Journal and our sister newspaper Islington Tribune, which began a campaign to save the under-threat A&E department in December – issue the strongest plea yet to health chiefs in a bid to make them change their mind. In essence, they have a short and simple message: “Save Our Whittington.”
    Broadcaster Lord Melvyn Bragg, writer Tariq Ali and actress Michelle Collins have all swung behind the campaign.
    Shock proposals, first revealed in our news­paper in November, have cast serious doubt over the future of the accident and emergency department in Highgate Hill.
    But the New Journal can reveal only a few dozen Camden residents had a say in the plans when they were developed and a case justifying the changes was being built.
    In November 2007, the government quango Healthcare for London launched a five-month public consultation on radical reforms proposed by Lord Darzi, then the health minister.
    His Framework for Action – a Case for Change recommended downgrading dozens of general hospitals and providing the majority of their treatments in cheaper-to-run neighbourhood health centres.
    But despite a whopping £15million being spent on promoting the consultation package across the capital, only 4,000 out of a possible five million people in London responded.
    In Camden, 169 residents – believed to be mainly health professionals and not even patients – replied and just 51 per cent of those gave their approval for the package as a whole.
    Professor John Lister, author of a recent report from the British Medical Association titled NHS On The Brink, described that return as “pitiful” and “wafer thin”, adding: “This ‘mandate’ has since been brandished by NHS London as endorsement for its subsequent prop­osals.”
    Very few people now fighting to save services at the Whittington were even aware they had the chance to have their say on the proposals.
    Following a series of leaked emails to our reporters, it has emerged that NHS bosses are looking at three options for the A&E including replacing it with a team of GPs who could treat patients suffering minor injuries.
    “What is important is that the Case for Change has been proven,” NHS chief executive Rachel Tyndall told around 250 people packing the Archway Methodist Church in November.
    But thousands simply do not agree with the bureaucrats.
    Hundreds have flocked to mass meetings, thousands have signed petitions and MPs have brought the matter to the attention of the Health Minister Mike O’Brien in a full-scale debate in the House of Commons.
    The Highgate Society, with 1,400 members, this week joined the campaign with a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of State for Health.
    A mass march and rally will take place later this month and campaigners are even talking about occupying the hospital – many believe it is time to raise the level of protest to outright militancy.
    But it is feared that, while the NHS bosses have promised to hold a second public consultation on any major changes at the Whittington, patients must change government policy to win.
    Zozi Goodman, chairman of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition who lives in Tufnell Park, said: “When you speak to everyone about this they are utterly incredulous. The problem is that the idea of a consultation is like something out of Ceausescu’s Romania. But if we keep making representations and exercising our democratic voice I believe we can make them abandon their proposals.”
    Two thirds of the Whittington’s patients – around 150,000 – arrive through the doors of its A&E ward each year.
    Jeremy Corbyn MP told the House of Commons in November he believed losing the department would eventually result in total closure of the hospital.
    Ms Tyndall, the £144,000-a-year NHS boss tasked with deciding what gets cut, is paid to work two days a week as chief executive of the North Central London (NCL) sector NHS trust – spanning Barnet, Enfield, Islington, Haringey and Camden. The sector is facing a funding cut of as much as £900m. But while the NCL has been up and running since July, and is a public body paid for by the taxpayer, it appears to be operating almost entirely behind closed doors.
    There have been no public meetings of NCL to date and there are no minutes or board papers available anywhere.
    A spokesman for NCL said on Tuesday the information gap was because it is “still developing the options”, adding: “The key meetings haven’t even been scheduled in our diaries yet. This is all in a very early stage.”
    Many health experts attending campaign meetings have questioned whether any clinical evidence exists for diverting A&E patients into new health centres.
    Both Camden and Islington councils, which can hold NHS bosses to account, have been left out of the loop. At a meeting in Islington Town Hall on Monday, Councillor Martin Klute said: “It is quite ridiculous that we are hearing about this through a leak in the local press.”
    His opposite number in Camden, Councillor John Bryant, announced in a meeting on Thursday that the five health scrutiny committees would join forces to monitor the plans.
    Even if the Whittington is significantly downgraded, it will still end up counting the cost of its £31.6m. refurbishment, which was completed in 2005, for 23 years.
    In a circular to staff this week, Whittington chief executive Rob Larkman said: “I’m afraid we will have to live with uncertainty about the future for some time yet.
    “We must do everything we can to avoid disruption to the important work of the hospital at this time.”
    Campaigners are calling on residents to turn out to show their support for the Whittington at the march, from Highbury Fields to the hospital, on February 27, assembling at noon.

    Writer Tariq Ali
    “You have my full support for the campaign. It is just horrendous. I have been to the hospital and I have always found the staff very supportive. The A&E always seems very popular. It makes me thankful we have an NHS. It will take much longer for me to get the Royal Free. This is New Labour policy gone crazy. The only way we can make them listen is by action from below.”

    Author Nick Hornby
    “I’d be absolutely appalled if they close the Whittington accident and emergency. For me to have to go to the Royal Free it would take twice the time.
    If you have sick kids it would be very worrying, because of the travel times.”

    Actor Terry Jones
    ”It is an astonishing proposal. It is absolutely mad to close the accident and emergency department. I would have thought we need as many A&Es as possible. We should keep the hospital, it is very good as it is. I support the campaign.”

    Lord Melvyn Bragg
    “It would really be a disgrace to close it down. It is an absolutely essential part of the hospital. We have visited the Royal Free on three occasions and they have provided a wonderful service. If they close the Whittington it will get very busy at the Free, and it is already very busy there.”

    Actor Michelle Collins
    “Please don’t close down the A&E. We need it. About 20 years ago I had my finger sewn on at the hospital. It got cut off in a door. They had to sew it back. It’s our local hospital, I’ve got a friend who’s a doctor there and I go there if I’ve got anything wrong with me. They’ve got a great baby unit, it's a really good community hospital.”

    Comedian Charlie Higson
    “It’s a ludicrous and ridiculous suggestion – absolute bullshit. You can count on my support. It is part of the crazy idea that we have choice. What people want is a good local hospital that will do all the things we want it to do. The problem is it costs so much to run the NHS. It is collapsing under its own cost.”

    Actor Leonard Fenton, aka Dr Legg
    “A major hospital like the Whittington must have an A&E. I’m a diabetic and if I have a hypo and I’m not at home then that would be a great problem. I have great respect for the NHS. I am 83 and they have looked after me well. The Whittington is my local hospital and I support the campaign.”

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