The Independent London Newspaper
24th May 2017


    Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell, is backing the campaign

     Fight to save the lifeline Whittington Hospital gains momentum as more big names speak out and NHS chiefs admit campaigners’ efforts could affect its future

    Published: 11 February 2010

    STARS of stage and screen have told how the threatened accident and emergency department at the Whittington Hospital helped their families – and how they are desperate for it not to close.

    A host of famous faces have now swung behind a campaign – backed by the New Journal and our sister paper the Islington Tribune – to keep the treasured facility open.

    Steve McFadden, best known as EastEnders hardman Phil Mitchell, said: “I don’t want to see the A&E close. I have used it a lot, particularly for my children as they have a fantastic children’s facility. 

    “The care is of a very high standard. When my daughter was a newborn baby she was ill and was admitted to the specialist children’s facility through the A&E. She stayed there for a week and the care she received was very good. The Royal Free is oversubscribed already and it’s not as if you don’t have to wait long enough to get seen.”

    Olivier award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson, who starred in the celebrated Truly, Madly and Deeply, and the writer Esther Freud also spoke out this week.

    Ms Stevenson added: “I’ve sat with various of my children in the A&E and it’s always heaving.”

    The campaign now has tens of thousands of patients, nearby residents and New Journal readers on the case, as well as a raft of politicians.

    It also incorporates those who use the Royal Free Hospital and fear the emergency services will become overrun as  patients are diverted there.

    The A&E at the Whittington could be shut as early as next year.

    The campaign, has already strung together a weighty coalition including Lord Melvyn Bragg, author Nick Hornby and writer Tariq Ali.

    And the people power is beginning to pile the pressure on health chiefs, who admitted in a report released on Thursday that the massive public outcry was likely to “inhibit progress and influence final outcomes”.

    The New Journal was the only newspaper present at the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition when it met on Monday night in Whittington Park Community Centre to hammer out plans for a mass march leaving Highbury Corner on February 27 and ending with a rally near the hospital.

    The following day Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb MP met patients outside the hospital and said the proposals were “ill-thought through” and “secretive”.

    His concerns about transparency came as NHS bosses finally gave the public a first glimpse of their official proposals in a 80-page report.

    While the debate has so far been characterised by leaked emails and rumour, there is now firm documentary evidence stating clearly in black and white that the Whittington A&E could be closed by the end of next year.

    NHS bureaucrats are weighing up seven ­“scenarios” for the hospital: three propose “minimal” changes to the Whittington; two have the crucial A&E open only 16 hours a day; and two recommend outright closure – a doomsday decision in the minds of most residents of north London.

    The report’s author Rachel Tyndall, the chief executive of the decision-making body, the North Central London sector (NCL), is tasked with finding ways to plug a £500million gap in funding over the next five years. She has repeatedly warned of upcoming “widespread changes” and “cuts”, leading campaigners to believe it is unlikely she will recommend “minimal” changes.

    Dr Paddy Glackin, chairman of Camden and Islington Local Medical Committee (LMC), representing GPs, warned that the NHS was facing “a time of enormous change”, adding that patients will benefit from some of the changes.

    Ms Tyndall’s report states that 40 per cent of A&E admissions – around 200,000 of the 500,000 in five north London hospitals – can be “effectively treated in an alternative lower cost settings”. 

    These would be teams of doctors stationed at hospital entrances in what are known as “Urgent Care Centres”, or super-size neighbourhood health centres such as the one being proposed by NHS Camden in Hampstead Road, Euston.

    The report recommends that long-term care for patients with dementia, asthma, heart failure, diabetes, hyper tensions, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), will be moved out of the hospitals and into these “low-cost” health centres. This trade-off could save the sector up to £40m each year, the report adds.

    Experts have questioned whether sound clinical evidence for these figures exists and whether the NHS can provide the back-up it will need when emergency services are shut down.

    Mr Lamb MP said: “Today I have heard people talk about poor GP services locally and out-of-hours access. The idea of getting care ­closer to home is a good principle. 

    “We’ve got to try and stop people having the kind of crises that ends up with people going to hospital unnecessarily. 

    “But closing down this kind of service, when the community services are inadequate, is wrong and should be resisted.”

    Politicians from all parties – including Labour MPs Frank Dobson and Jeremy Corbyn – have railed against the report.

    • More details about the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, the group organising the march on February 27, can be found at

    ‘Demand it stays open’ Latest famous faces to support campaign

    Novelist Esther FreudNovelist Esther Freud
    Esther Freud, who is married to actor David Morrissey, said: “I am shocked by this. Our 11-year-old daughter broke her arm and had the most marvellous treatment. They kept her in overnight and set her arm wonderfully. I’ve nothing but praise for staff.”

    Film director Ken LoachFilm director Ken Loach
    “What an extraordinary idea, to close the A&E. I know from our own family’s experience how vital this service is. It’s another example of the needs of patients being ignored in favour of so-called ‘reforms’. Patients and health service unions should combine to demand that it stays open.” 

    Actor Arabella WeirActor Arabella Weir
    “I am dead set against it. They helped my husband stay alive. I live about a mile east from the hospital and I wouldn’t want to make the long journey to the Royal Free. It’s just too far. It is a no brainer.”


    Actor Juliet StevensonActor Juliet Stevenson
    “It seems insane to close the hospital’s A&E. For a start, it’s always so busy. I’ve sat with various of my children in the A&E and it’s always heaving. If it closes we’ll have to go to the Royal Free and that’s already much too overloaded.


    Playwright Stephen PoliakoffPlaywright Stephen Poliakoff
    “It was an emergency appendicitis operation at 1am and the staff were marvellous. It could have been a lot worse if [my young daughter] hadn’t have been treated so promptly. Certainly it would have taken us a lot longer to get to the Royal Free. They do a great job so we must save the A&E.”

    Actor Warren MitchellActor Warren Mitchell
    “Being 84 years old I’m personally involved because I may need to get to the A&E quickly, so I must back your campaign.” 


    Royal Free will face more chaos

    THE threat to the accident and emergency department at the Whittington Hospital in Highgate has led to ripples of discontent in Hampstead – where patients fear the Royal Free Hospital will become deluged by a new wave of emergency patients.

    Around 80,000 people are admitted through the Whittington’s emergency unit each year. A similar number already attend the Royal Free’s own A&E.

    Frontline staff in the Royal Free casualty have told the New Journal privately that the department is already like a “madhouse” following a major surge in attendances that culminated in an “internal major incident” on January 21.

    A report to the hospital’s board last month reveals how the NHS Trust simply ran out of beds in its emergency and intensive care departments because of a massive surge of calls on that day.

    There was no other option but to turn patients away and divert ambulances to other hospitals.

    Hospital chief executive David Sloman warned board members that A&E admissions had risen by 30 per cent over five weeks between December and mid-January.

    “For the first three weeks of January 2010 the volume of attendances was 20 per cent greater than for the same period in 2009,” he added. They are statistics which add weight to the argument that closing the Whittington could lead to a meltdown at the Royal Free.

    In his comments last week, Lord Melvyn Bragg warned of the waiting times that people may be forced to accept at the Hampstead hospital.

    In total, A&E admissions in all Camden hospitals have rocketed by 32 per cent on last year. 

    It shows that while strategists are intent on shutting casualty departments, patients more than ever before prize them as the best place to go in an emergency.



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