Whittington Hospital campaigners in Manchester
Published: 03 October, 2013
by TOM FOOT
MEDICAL secretaries who spent two years under the threat of redundancy at the Whittington have called for greater respect of NHS staff at a public meeting about the future of the Highgate hospital.
The clinically trained and experienced staff – all women providing a crucial link between patients and consultants – spoke out about their long ordeal in the Archway Methodist Hall.
The meeting was organised by the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, which joined a mass demonstration at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Sunday, where union leader Frances O’Grady warned that 21,000 NHS employees had lost their jobs and felt like “no one was listening to them”.
The 26 medical secretaries who lost their jobs at the Whittington have been offered different positions on lower pay bands – including catering and call centres posts. They have been replaced by a digital dictation system.
One, speaking to board members attending the meeting in Archway, said: “I have been living under the threat of redundancy for two years, until we were told we were not being made redundant.
"We have been down-banded from Band 4 to Band 3 jobs. If you don’t treat staff properly it is difficult to have good morale.”
Acting chairman Robert Aitken said: “The period of time is very regrettable. It is unfortunate, but these are the things that happen.”
This week former medical secretaries wrote to the New Journal outlining their concern for patient care and that “things are going horribly wrong”.
Labour MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn told the meeting: “The strength of the NHS is the commitment of people who work in the NHS because they believe in the NHS. I hope the hospital understands the importance of that and the importance of the trade unions and of valuing its staff.”
Referring to campaigners’ victory in overturning plans for widespread job cuts at the hospital earlier this year, he added: “The role the campaign has played has made a big difference. We want the local hospital to know we are not going away.”
Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “It is appalling what is going on. The unions have their hands tied by the regional office, the organisation of the main union is preventing them from taking action.
"We need to give the hospital staff confidence that we are behind them, maybe through unofficial action.”
The meeting heard that the Whittington Hospital has been named again this month as having the lowest mortality rates in the country, showing the NHS Trust is performing at the very highest level in its current set-up.
Dr Jacky Davis, a radiologist who worked for the Whittington Hospital for 30 years, told the meeting: “What is clearly obvious is that standard of care is directly related to staffing levels.”
Medical director Dr Martin Kuper said: “That is why we want to preserve and be extremely careful about our staff and, in particular, our clinical staff.
"We are generating efficiency through admin’.” He said that a proposed “different model of healthcare” – where more patients are treated at home or in neighbourhood health centres – was “a way to keep the hospital open” at a time when policy-makers wanted to have fewer district general hospitals in London.
“The reason we are still here is because we have something different to offer,” he warned.
“So far, there have not been mass redundancies as predicted, and all staff have been offered other jobs. We have to be careful what we want as, if we do not make efficiencies, the Trust will be taken over.
"One of the reasons we are still here is because of the strength of the feeling of the community. We cannot waste any more time fighting each other.”
Dr Kuper admitted that the hospital had made a “dreadful hash” of those earlier plans, which he said were “unrealistic” and that he was “happy” that buildings earmarked for sale had been saved.
He revealed that he was one of the doctors who signed a letter against the proposed closure of the Whittington Hospital A&E in 2010 and received a polite round of applause – a complete contrast to the boos and jeers the board faced when 600 packed the same hall eight months ago.
The Trust is currently participating in a collaborative learning set with a number of other Trusts led by business consultancy McKinsey, board papers said this week.