Not much shocks me after so many years in politics. But the revelation at a Board meeting that the Whittington intended to sell off a third of its site, reduce wards and staff was a bolt from the blue. Given that we all – the local MPs from Islington and Haringey – meet with the CEO regularly and nothing of this sell off had ever been mentioned – what on earth was the Whittington thinking?
Look at the recent past. It’s only three years since we took to the streets to march, petition and fight the proposed Labour closure of the A& E. We won. Thank goodness. Of all the stupid paper ideas that Trusts dream up – this was one of the worst because it would not have worked and would have meant that local people lost an absolutely vital service. Under the pressure of the General Election and huge efforts by local people and politicians – the Labour government backed off and the A&E was saved. And subsequently the hospital worked with the people – and went through a lot of effort to make sure that what they were doing was supported by local people. Phew – we thought.
I had hoped that a lesson had been learned – but here we are again. No public consultation, no staff consultation, no working groups, no nothing. (Well since the furore this week the CEO has just now sent a letter out finally to staff to say they will be talking to them – too little too late – understatement). You would think they would be working with all of us every step of the way this time about any changes that they were planning for the future of this much needed and very successful hospital. Not a bit of it.
Not only that – both when I had an urgent phone call with the CEO and at the emergency meeting of all the local MPs and the CEO last week – we got a very profound apology for not having mentioned any of this to anyone – but no real understanding of the enormity of all of this at all. And now, I understand that the CEO is quoted in the papers as saying no one had asked her. To have so little understanding of the nature of the impact of proposed changes on her local community is unconscionable.
In brief, the proposal is to sell off a third of the site (buildings which do not have clinical services), cap births, reduce wards and staff and put more services into the community. This, we are told, will ‘improve services’. Well – we are wary and mistrustful from our past experiences that ‘improve services’ means ‘lose services’. To get over our mistrust the Whittington should have been working with the local community, local Council and local politicians every step of the way. We all want the Whittington to not only survive but be a vibrant and successful hospital going forward.
I am not against all change. Maybe this is a solution that the Board believe will ensure the Whittington’s future. But it doesn’t look like it and it doesn’t feel like it. Because, just like last time, it is the concoction of managers behind closed doors.
It may very well be that the ‘old’ buildings have extortionate maintenance costs. It may also well be that this isn’t about the deficit or savings (as the CEO kept repeating at the meeting ‘this has categorically nothing to do with the deficit or the savings plan’) for which they are on target. Every NHS hospital in the country has a savings plan.
This is all about becoming a Foundation Trust (a policy brought in under Labour). It is a decision by the Whittington and the Whittington alone. This ‘strategy’ that is proposing sell off etc is part of the process of applying for Foundation Trust status. The hospital has to submit a viable plan for the future.
St Ann’s hospital, in David Lammy MP’s Tottenham patch has also got old buildings and needs to modernise etc – but at least there they have worked with David and me every step of the way – so far!
This is a mess-up of gargantuan proportions. And the pity is – we all want the Whittington to thrive and survive – and we could all have worked together to make any necessary changes for future proofing. Now – no one trusts the plan. No one believes this will deliver better services.
Now the only way out is for the Whittington to go back to square one, work with all interested parties on a future plan, consult with local people and then, when we are all happy, move forward to a secure and better future.
That is why working with Cllr Dave Winskill (LibDem health spokesperson) and his LibDem Council colleagues – we are calling for a proper public consultation and all new services to be in place before any sell off.
Please sign the petition here.