Whittington A&E

Here’s my latest column for the Muswell Hill Flyer and the Highgate Handbook:

I sent out an email to my special email list to ask for people’s personal stories of when the Whittington Accident & Emergency had been important in their lives – and got a phenomenal response. (If you want to be on this list just email lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org and say so).

I will be presenting these to all the members of all the boards of all the layers of NHS decision makers who are working out our future health services (and there are many of them) and to the government in due course – to try and remind them that this about people’s lives – and that we are not just pawns on some management chessboard.

The clue is in the title of the service – ‘emergency’ – and some of the stories tell how the ambulance man or woman has said we must go to the nearest hospital because x won’t make it if we don’t – every second counts.

Now every resident of Muswell Hill and Highgate who has contacted me about this is quite clear about the importance of having a full 24/7 A&E locally. Distance matters both for saving lives but also for ease of access. And quite frankly the Whittington is far better placed for public transport than the Royal Free for us.

The decision makers are arguing that distance isn’t always important and that extra GP hours, NHS Direct and pharmacies can be a viable alternative. But no amount of extra GP hours or even an urgent care centre (which is one of their alternative suggestions) can replace a full A&E service. This is insanity being wrapped up and sold to us under the guise of ‘better clinical outcomes’. Yes – there are people who use A&E who don’t need to – but taking away A&E isn’t the answer – adding a GP walk-in where those people could be diverted to – could be.

If our A&E goes – as sure as night follows day – we will also lose obstetrics and the Intensive Care Unit. There will be no emergency take from GPs and it will compromise the teaching of medical students at the Whittington.

As for the funding, I put it directly to the Minister, Mike O’Brien, in an Adjournment Debate on the Whittington, that there is a fear that this is about cuts and budgets. The Minister assured me, on the record, that there would be no ‘slash and burn’ solutions and that all of this was about better clinical outcomes.

Well – for all those stories where people would have died if there had not been an A&E at the Whittington – seems to me being alive is a pretty good clinical outcome.