The Whittington Hospital's A&E is under review
Published: 4 June, 2014
By TOM FOOT
A MAJOR review of the Whittington Hospital’s A&E department has been launched – but health officials have insisted that it will not affect services.
Staff at the Highgate hospital have been asked for their views on the future of the department which was saved from closure last year after thousands took to the streets to protest.
An internal memo this week said there are plans to “develop the environment of the department” and for “a rapid assessment area at the ambulance entrance”.
It comes as the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead won planning consent to effectively double the size of its A&E unit.
A Whittington insider said: “We’re worried about what’s happening at the A&E. We think they are going to wind it down.
“The staff are watching and waiting for the papers to come out.”
The source said there had already been recent changes to shift patterns and a reorganisation of staff in the A&E but hospital officials said the review would focus on more cosmetic matters such as paint colour and seating.
Campaigners have warned that any cuts will trigger a repeat of the people power protests that that took place in 2010 and 2013.
The new fears have been stoked by a new announcement from the Royal Free of a major £25million upgrade to its A&E department so that it can cope with 30,000 extra admissions a year.
The Royal Free, which was made a foundation trust last year, announced last week that the project was expected to be completed by September 2017.
Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb is expected to attend an official opening next month of the Whittington’s new “ambulatory care centre”. The £3million addition, open between 9am-5pm, is being described by the trust as a “new way of providing high-quality emergency care”.
Recent board documents make no mention of the changes but a report from the interim chief executive, Simon Pleydell, flags up the A&E as “amongst the top performing departments in London”.
The six-month appointment of Mr Pleydell – one of the top 10 highest paid NHS bosses in the country – raised eyebrows among some senior NHS analysts who believed he had been parachuted in to the Whittington to oversee wider changes affecting the family of hospitals across London.
Mr Pleydell told the New Journal he had “no agenda” but to “steady the ship” after a series of board members quit in the wake of botched proposals to sell off a huge swathe of the hospital site last year.
But since before his arrival fears have been raised by union leaders that the Whittington would not continue as a fully functioning hospital and that it could soon become a “glorified nursing home”.
It is already no longer considered to be a district general hospital and is classed as a “community care organisation” because of its new focus on providing services to patients in their homes or nearby health centres. Whittington chairman Steve Hitchins said in his first month in charge that having a “district general hospital” on the site was “no longer viable”.
This month’s board papers reveal plans to boost numbers of nurses at the hospital and state that a major “recruitment drive” has begun in Glasgow and Dublin.
Unison trade union members at the Whittington, led by new secretary Claire Dixon, are holding a protest outside the main entrance of the hospital today (Thursday) from noon.
In his monthly report, Mr Pleydell said: “April was the seventh consecutive month the A&E department met the target of seeing 95 per cent of all patients within four hours (96.31 per cent). For the first two weeks in May, we also exceeded the target.”
The board papers also bid farewell to Professor Jane Dacre – the sister-in-law of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre – who is stepping down from her non-executive director role at the Whittington to become President of the Royal College of Physicians.