Renowned GP slams NHS plan to close vital Whittington A&E
THE leader of Britain’s doctors has warned health bosses not to shut down a major casualty unit serving hundreds of thousands of Camden residents.
President of the Royal College of GPs Dr Iona Heath, the British general practice ambassador, said proposals to close the emergency department at the Whittington Hospital were “crazy”.
Dr Heath delivered the warning as she announced plans to retire after 35 years at the Caversham Practice in Kentish Town.
It was a parting shot aimed at the bureaucrats considering the closure of the A&E department at the Highgate hospital.
Under the plans, the majority of the 80,000 patients treated in the A&E each year will be diverted to the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead or University College London Hospital in Euston.
Dr Heath, one of the most respected GPs in the country, said: “I cannot believe they are even contemplating these changes at the Whittington. Where will everyone go?
“The Royal Free Hospital is already massively overstretched and so is UCLH.
“People are already waiting there for ages. The Whittington is not an unwanted casualty. I hope they [NHS London] will see sense.”
NHS London, the capital’s health funding authority, is considering the dramatic changes because of a huge drop in the amount of money the government plans to invest over the next five years, with cuts being blamed on the recession.
The health authority wants to move services out of the Whittington and into large community health centres that are replacing small neighbourhood surgeries, like the Caversham, across the country.
Doctors have campaigned against setting up big health centres, arguing they will break the close ties between doctors and their patients.
Dr Heath – one of Camden’s longest serving GPs who is celebrated across the country for holding health chiefs to task – said: “They [the Government] are trying to make everything bigger these days – but I think sometimes when things are too big they can be less familiar.
“The incredible privilege for me has been the relationships I have built up with people’s lives – there is nothing like it. It is extraordinary, the courage people have, to survive.”
She said she was “very pleased” with the Keep Our NHS Public campaign victory over proposals to open a centralised super clinic in Euston adding, “patients demonstrated they can really make the difference.”
Caversham partner Dr Steve Amiel, who has worked with Dr Heath for 40 years, said: “I think Iona is a fantastic ambassador for the NHS – she travels the world talking about British general practice. People see her as a beacon of common sense and not afraid to get angry when there is something she feels is wrong.
“She feels passionately about the NHS and she feels that there have been a lot of changes she does not like here in Camden. Many of these changes threaten to disrupt the relationship between patients and their doctors. People do not understand how cost effective that relationship is.”
Born in Kent, Cambridge-educated Dr Heath was attracted to the Caversham because of its visionary founding partner Dr Hugh Faulkner.
EXCLUSIVE by TOM FOOT