Tribune leads battle to block closure of Whittington A&E
THE fight is on to Save Our Whittington.
About 250 people packed a public meeting on Wednesday night after thousands signed online petitions opposing the threatened closure of the Archway hospital’s accident and emergency department.
Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and higher education minister David Lammy challenged NHS bosses to “come clean” about proposals to strip the hospital of its casualty unit.
Fears about the long-term future of the hospital were sparked by a series of internal emails leaked last month. MP Jeremy Corbyn raised his concerns that loss of the A&E department could result in complete closure with Health Minister Mike O’Brien during a parliamentary debate on the “Future of the Whittington”.
North Central London NHS Trust chief executive Rachel Tyndall – who will be responsible for making the final decision on the hospital’s future – told the meeting in Archway Methodist Hall that “no decision had been taken”.
But she admitted for the first time publicly that A&E closure was an option being considered by the board.
She said: “We are all very concerned about the future of public sector funding. We have been really lucky in recent years and have had above-inflation uplift – we know now that is going to stop. We have too much debt as a nation. No political party is going to give the NHS as much money in the future as it’s had in the past. It means we have a greater responsibility to find the best value.
“We are looking at three models for the Whittington. The first is where there is minimal change, the second where it provides a service with medical assessments and less support for surgery and the third where it would not have an emergency service.
“There are three options for A&E – one where there are minor changes and it is open 24 hours a day; when it is open during ‘waking hours’, around 16 hours a day; another, when there is no A&E.”
She added: “Any proposals would be subject to formal consultation.”
The announcement provoked a storm of protest from patients and health care professionals inside the hall.
Mr Lammy said: “I was born in the Whittington and so were my two sons. Many people from the West Indian community feel they built these NHS hospitals. It is unacceptable for residents of Haringey and Islington to go without proper acute services. That cannot be right.”
Ms Thornberry, Islington South MP, said: “We don’t believe cutting Whittington A&E makes us healthier. We want a consultation that listens to what people say.”
Angela Sinclair-Loutit, from Islington Pensioners’ Forum, said: “The A&E is very good. There’s no need to close it. The Whittington has spent £13million on refurbishment. One minute improve, the next downgrade. Who is making these extraordinary decisions? I’m sure the developers are having a whale of a time.”
Islington resident Jan Tucker said: “My granddaughter had swine flu and they thought she might have meningitis. We were ushered into the children’s A&E, which was wonderful – there were no alcoholics or screaming. They’ve built this and now they are thinking of closing it?
“We are putting older people at risk too. This must be stopped. It is disgusting.”
Many carers spoke up about the dangers of closing accident and emergency, even during the early hours of the morning when it is not used so regularly.
Islington resident Rita McLoughlin said: “Carers often use the A&E at times like 3am. If these people have to travel further, will the hospital pay for taxis?”
Chairman of Islington Carers’ Centre Shirley Franklin said: “I know Holloway and Pentonville prisons are very worried about this. We already have the highest suicide rate in the country.”
Resident Janet Pollack said: “I am insulin dependent – all my emergencies are at night.”
Councillor Martin Klute, Labour chairman of Islington Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, added: “If you take out an A&E you lose all you best quality staff.”
Gary Heather, president of Islington Trades Union Council, said: “You are going to have a hell of a job convincing people about this – you will have a major fight on your hands.”
The meeting heard calls for Ms Tyndall to “resign” and for a series of occupations, marches and demonstrations to be staged.
Ms Tyndall said she would answer all questions raised at the meeting and send an “answer sheet” to Mr Corbyn for distribution.
The MP said: “I am very pleased that we called this meeting. It is very important. The NHS is the most civilised thing about this country – it requires our support, love and protest.”
A campaign meeting will be held in Whittington Park Community Centre in Yerbury
Road on Monday from 7pm.
• To add your name to the petition, visit www.savethewhittington.org.uk
POLITICIANS at the Town Hall have joined forces to defend Whittington’s accident and emergency department.
Lib Dems, Labour, independent Lib Dem councillor Andrew Cornwell and lone Green councillor Katie Dawson voted for an emergency motion calling on the NHS to retain the A&E department and to give assurances that no Whittington services would be lost.
Town Hall Lib Dem leader Councillor Terry Stacy said: “This is probably one of those very rare subjects that unites all members of the chamber. This proposal will have a devastating effect.”
Labour councillor Richard Watts added: “Everyone has a personal experience. My own was the birth of my son which, although it wasn’t an emergency was a difficult birth. We were pleased to have an emergency unit there.”