The New Journal has campaigned to save the emergency department from closure twice before
Published: 21 November, 2016
By TOM FOOT
THE man in charge of one of the biggest reorganisations of NHS services in north London in recent history has insisted there are “no plans to close the A&E at the Whittington” as concerns were raised around secrecy shrouding the overhaul.
David Sloman, chief executive of the Royal Free, has been under pressure to say where the cuts will fall in a savings plan due to his role in developing the Sustainability Transformation Plan (STP), a document drawn up behind closed doors and centring on how health authorities will operate while hamstrung by a £900 million budget deficit.
With no public talks on what the STP will mean for services, some patients feared that the emergency unit at the Whittington would be at risk.
The suspicions led Mr Sloman to make his first public comments on the STP this week when he told the New Journal: “I would like to reassure your readers that there are no plans to close A&E at the Whittington Hospital.”
The STP, a 60-page document written in dense corporate-style jargon, was finally published this week by the NHS. It is the same as the draft of the document that was “leaked” three weeks earlier, against the wishes of the health chiefs, on Camden Town Hall’s website by leader Sarah Hayward, who argued there was a need for greater “political scrutiny” of the process.
STPs have been characterised as a silent attack on the NHS by opponents.
The papers warn that, collectively, North Central London health services will be saddled by debt until 2021 and that the STP will aim to “avoid unnecessary duplication of services between organisations”.
It says a “case for change” has been proven and that digital technology can better meet the needs of an “ageing population” by caring for them in their homes or community health centres.
When the NHS considered closing the Whittington A&E in 2010, the officials behind the plans used a similar argument. The New Journal was at the head of the campaign to save the unit and has vowed to challenge any future attempts to shut it.
Campaigners are also concerned that the STP cost-cutting could lead to more bed closures in Camden’s three major hospitals, University College Hospital, Royal Free and the Whittington.
“Standing still is not an option,” said Mr Sloman, a former chief executive of the Whittington.
Campaigners say that instead of meekly agreeing to provide service to the funding available, NHS chief executives – who are paid six figure salaries – should be
digging their heels in and demanding more money from central Government.
Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, which coordinated two successful campaigns that saved the A&E and stopped a major buildings sell off and job cuts at the hospital, said: “When the plans are forthcoming we will organise a public meeting. If vital services are threatened we will demonstrate. It does seem likely that some other services could be cut and there will be privatisation.”
Dr Jacky Davis, an NHS campaigner and former Whittington consultant radiologist, said: “The cuts are going to be so great, they won’t be able to deliver an NHS with any quality.”
She added: “A [health] expert said to me this week ‘this will be the end of the NHS as we know it’.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Islington South MP Emily Thornberry and the chief executive of the Whittington Hospital were among around 60 people to attend a Keep Our NHS Public meeting about the STP in Islington Town Hall last night (Wednesday).
But Richard Jennings, Whittington medical director, who is also chairman of the STP “clinical cabinet”, told the meeting: “For the main part, it’s about bringing the NHS and social care together and we need a sense of optimism about this. I think this is an opportunity to so some good.”
He added: “And I would like to get this on record: there are no plans to close the Whittington A&E. I would not be engaged with this if its purpose was to cut things.”
The Royal Free Hospital has published the full STP report on its website.