Cock-up, conspiracy or incompetence?

Lynne Featherstone, Cllr Martin Newton and London Assembly Member, Caroline PidgeonHere’s my latest column for the Muswell Hill Flyer and Highgate Handbook:

Finally I managed to get Transport for London (TfL), Haringey Primary Care Trust (part of the NHS) and me together in the same place to bang heads together about the need for better bus links to the new Community Health Centre on the old Hornsey Central Hospital site.

We have this wonderful new facility but, despite the transport issues being raised as a key issue at every public and private meeting (literally for years) by many people, nothing has been properly planned, delivered – or even promised for the future.

And of course now the new Health Centre is here – and operational – but not a new bus in sight. Loads of people joined in my campaign for a new bus to enable them to access the new centre when referred there from wherever they live in Highgate, Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Fortis Green or Alexandra wards by their own GP.

Imagine my shock when TfL said they had no idea that there were services were already being provided (with lots more to come) which would bring people from all over the west of Hornsey & Wood Green to the new facility. TfL seemed to be under the illusion that the only thing happening was that two GP practices had moved in and only they would need transport.

To be honest – I couldn’t believe it!

Given the promises on transport, the supposed discussions on transport – to be sitting there listening to the two key agencies basically saying that there was such a gap in communication that TfL didn’t know that there was an ongoing and expanding need for access to the site from provision of new services on the site was truly shocking.

From this ‘discovery’ TfL have now agreed to take away the issue and look at it properly. At least they now both seem to understand there is a problem with providing a major new health facility with no extra transport provision.

I have been contacted by many local people on the back of our campaign giving examples of problems they have encountered. One example is a team who have already moved into the new facility and whose clients will commonly have reduced mobility – albeit still very capable of getting on a bus if it can deliver them near to the health centre – are concerned about how their patients will get to them.

Another example is that of one local health worker who has contact with people with very differing needs in the borough who wrote to me to say that a number of people she is in contact with through her work have mentioned their concerns about the lack of usable transport links to the new site.

I don’t know what on earth has been going on – but you can bet my language to both the Chair of Haringey PCT and Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport in London) will be pretty strong as I bring this smartly to their attention.

Clearly this is a mess – and I just hope that both Haringey PCT and TfL sort it out now they have acknowledged that they haven’t even been looking at the right problem.

Peter Hendy promises to meet about better bus links for Hornsey Hospital

I went to see Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for Transport for London – the big cheese – to present the postcard campaign for a new bus to serve the new health facility at Hornsey Hospital.

Miraculously – he said he would be willing to come personally and meet Haringey Health Trust to discuss the provision of public transport to the new facility. Hurrah! Score!

It was clear that Transport for London don’t think they should pay for all new public transport access – because in Mr Hendy’s view – Haringey PCT (Primary Care Trust) should have thought about the need for access before choosing the site.

Well – as someone who campaigned against Hornsey Hospital’s closure, against the taking away of the W2 bus route, and for a new facility for years – actually the site is the right place. However, I can see that there is an argument over why TfL should foot the total bill for any public transport now needed to serve it.

So – what I said to Mr Hendy was – well come and meet and perhaps you can go 50/50 on it. I don’t care which of you pays – what I do care about is that local people can get to the health centre easily.

The transport consultants that the PCT commissioned came up with a report that said that something like over half the people using the new centre would have journey’s of over 20 minutes and have to change buses. Every one knows that anyway. There isn’t a public meeting that I have been to about Hornsey Hospital where the issue of transport hasn’t been raised.

There are bus routes – but only one stop outside the hospital. The others leave a walk of over 400 metres – which if you are old or ill is too far – let alone those who have to change buses.

Anyway -chuffed with at least coming away with a promise to personally meet with local Trust and myself to thrash out what is needed and who will pay for it at least give us some hope.

Getting to and from Hornsey Hospital

Well – the new all singing, all dancing Hornsey Hospital will open in the relatively near future. But despite raising the issue of public transport needs to the new facility since the day of its inception – and requests to Peter Hendy (TFL Commissioner of Transport for London) and Haringey Council and all – they are still ‘having meetings’ about it.

We need to make sure that this new medical centre is properly served by adequate public transport. They took away the W2 when it was closed some years ago. Official figures from the health trust acknowledge that the area is very poorly served by buses, with less than half of local residents able to get to the Park Road Health centre in less than 20 minutes. We need a new bus – particularly to serve those people whose GP practices move in, but also for everyone who will access the other services on site.

It is absolutely fantastic that we finally have a new health facility in our local area after campaigning for so long with local residents to make it happen. But what’s the point if it is so difficult for people to get there?

603 bus

The bigwigs from Transport for London came to Parliament to meet with the London Lib Dem MPs to answer specific questions from them. Quite a line up! Tim O’Toole (tube), David Brown (surface transport), Ian Brown (overground) and the Commissioner for Transport – Peter Hendy.

Needless to say my constant refrain is ‘gissa bus’ – and specifically the extension to a full time route for the 603. What is like trying to get blood out of a stone is the cycle where I ask, I get told that a full time route is not financially viable – but then they won’t say what demand level will make it viable. However, today after pushing and pushing the point, David Brown has said that he will finally get back to me with some sort of figure. I could see scepticism in his eye – because he is convinced that the model TfL use to assess viability predicts demand accurately. I say bollocks to that. Anyway – I want to try and prove their model wrong. So – if they say 10 passengers per hour or 20 or whatever – I will find them!

Asking Tom Chambers for an autograph

A fun thing happened yesterday – well two in fact. And it has been quite a grim couple of weeks so very welcome.

First off I was at the BBC to do the Jeremy Vine show – and while I was waiting in the ‘green room’, I saw Tom Chambers from Strictly Coming Dancing pacing up and down – obviously also waiting to go on a show. Well – we are big Strictly fans in my house – and so, despite the hideous embarrassment I would have to suffer – I went up to him and introduced myself. And yes – asked for his autograph for one of my daughters.

He was so nice – despite, I assume, getting approached quite a lot. When I told him that my daughter had put money on him (I know – betting- sorry) he looked a bit surprised. I hastily added that she was 19 – and that she had a double bet – him for Strictly and Alexandra for X Factor! He said all his friends had money on him too!

And then the second nice thing was going to a presentation by Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport for London) and Tim O’Toole (Manager of London Underground). Nice for two reasons – firstly I think these two are class professionals – way better than most I have met on my sojourn through life. Secondly – brilliant presentation by Tim on the improvements to the tube up to 2020. Just setting aside the actuality for a moment – the way he illustrated what would happen on each line was the most dynamic presentation I have seen for years! As the first 20 years of my professional life were as a designer – just a pleasure to watch.

Polyclinics: panacea or plague?

Polyclinics are turning out to be one of those slow-burning political issues which, although getting the occasional piece of news coverage, have really been bubbling away in the public’s mind and concerns for a long time before really grabbing the forefront of political attention.

The possible introduction of polyclinics has been an issue in Haringey for some time now, and it’s a topic I’ve blogged about moderately regularly – but nearly each time I’ve been struck when going to research further information on the topic or to see what other people have been saying, how little attention overall the issue has been getting. Yes, there’s been the occasional news story and occasional reference in Parliament, but for an issue that could massively alter the way tens of millions of people get their health care via the NHS, it’s really been pretty low key.

The recent news that over 1 million people have signed a petition on the issue – along with the major Kings Fund report into the topic – may well change that now!

I certainly hope so, because the introduction of Polyclinics, or Neighbourhood Health Centres, or whatever the government has tried to re-brand them as this week is the biggest health issue facing my constituency – and many others – at the moment.

The idea behind these centres has some attractions – bring different health services together on one site so that you can move quickly and easily between those services without the usual delays (go to one place, get referred to another, wait for appointment) or the extra travel.

Haringey’s Primary Care Trust has chosen to be a trail blazer for Polyclinics and has enthusiastically adopted the idea. The current proposal is to close a number of local GP’s surgeries and consolidate them into four or five Polyclinics.

And that’s where the concerns start. Will these become large impersonal services where we are no longer able to see our own local doctor? We need guarantees that the relationship with your doctor will continue. Any severing the doctor/patient relationship would be a travesty. Hardly anyone wants to explain a deeply personal medical problem to a complete stranger.

Consolidation of GP’s will undoubtedly increase journey times for many people wishing to see their GP, and force them to take either public transport or their car. The heaviest users of primary care have low levels of car ownership (senior citizens 69% no car; lone parents 42%).

It’s easy for those of us who have no trouble getting around to under-estimate just what a burden it can be to extend someone’s 10 minute journey into a 30 minute with two bus changes journey.

The site of the old Hornsey Hospital is where one of the proposed polyclinics is to be built. This site is currently served by only one bus route and it takes Transport for London anything from two years to establish a bus route. This means that those with the most need would most likely have the least access to the service. I met with TfL and raised the issue of public transport provision to this site several years ago and recently raised it with Peter Hendy – the Transport Commissioner for London. But as yet – no firm plans.

Sorting out adequate access to the services should be central to any polyclinics plan – not an afterthought to play around with after the service is in place and people are already suffering from poor transport links.

The recent report by the Kings Fund concluded that there were “serious risks to access to care” posed by consolidation of primary health care and that “it is unlikely that the gains in access to some services currently provided in hospitals are worth the losses for primary care patients.”
Accessibility of service, both in terms of getting an appointment and getting to the appointment, is vital – especially as 90% of access to the NHS is via the primary care route.

And then there is the question of whether polyclinics will really add to our services and facilities? Or will consolidation mean – as it has in so many other areas – cuts?

That brings me to the problems over how the policy is being pushed through – without proper consultation or information. It’s a central imposition of Labour’s ideas on to local communities. Local health bodies have been instructed by central government that they must have polyclinics in every community. This is a classic top-down, Whitehall imposed centralising solution to local problems.

As with our post offices, we were promised that local opinion would be taken account of through consultation. Yet so far we have not been told precisely which services will be provided by polyclinics. This renders the consultation process pretty meaningless as we cannot make an informed choice about what we will gain. And so we are marching on blind – not knowing and having to keep our fingers crossed.

Will Ken Livingstone put his money where his mouth is?

That’s the question I ask in my latest column – this one for the local Highgate Handbook:

Just imagine Highgate Village on a summer day – with no bus stand! A beautiful pedestrianised area with no noisy, smelly buses with engines idling – and local people able to stroll happily – stopping to chat with friends and neighbours.

In order words – will Ken’s fine words about improving our environment mean action in our community, or will it only be the grand schemes in central London that he pays attention to? Read on in the full piece

Good news in Highgate bus stand saga

Transport for London’s Peter Hendy has agreed to a TfL making a site visit to discuss the vexed question of the location of Highgate Village’s main bus stand.

The solution I’m after is an extension of the vital 271 to East Finchley – so it connects better with other local services and East Finchley tube station. This would not only create more joined-up bus services, but would also allow the removal of the bus stand – greatly improving Pond Square. Better bus services and a better space for the community – it’d be a matter of win, win.

You can read more details of the story here and you can read the Hornsey Journal’s coverage of the story here.

Parking at the Highgate Group Practice

Lynne Featherstone MP at Highgate Group PracticeVisited Highgate Group Practice to look at the appalling situation they are in thanks to Haringey Council.

With the introduction of a CPZ by Haringey Council, this fantastic local practice worked to try and help Haringey Council get it right. Transport and parking is important for a GP service – because, by its very nature, many of the people coming to use the service have difficulty getting about because they are old, ill or both. To make the situation even more pressing – the site is badly served by public transport. So – there is a need for people to be able to visit by car.

Now, there is a two-hour slot in the day when there are no surgeries – and the CPZ being introduced was due to be for two hours a day. Ah – problem solved! Well you or I might think that – but whilst the surgery down time is 12:00-2:00pm, Haringey insisted that the CPZ had to be in force at 10:00-12:00 rather than 12:00-2:00pm. Aaaaargh!

Ok, said the practice – why not then introduce 12 pay and display slots in View Road, which has empty residents’ parking bays virtually all the way? Yes said the council. Ah – problem solved! Oh but no. Because Haringey Council said it would introduce the bays back in September – but still hasn’t. Now they’re promising they’ll do it in February. Let’s hope the 700 signature petition helps keep them to this promise!

Adding insult to injury – the welcome idea of introducing a bus stop opposite the practice has been a farce. They’ve sloped the road in order to bring pavement level down to where buses would load – but they have not actually introduced a bus stop. And if they did introduce the stop at the site where the pavement work has been done – it would obstruct all the traffic on this relatively heavy flow road. Nil out of ten to Transport for London. I will be raising this with Peter Hendy on Wednesday.

Ho hum!

Hornsey Central Hospital: the latest plans

Haringey PCT presented their update on Hornsey Hospital to a meeting yesterday. The good news (potentially) is that they have financial closure and the building will be built. The battle now is over what services get provided, which GPs will be based there, how local pharmacies will be impacted as they want a bit of a pharmacy on site, whether extra public transport can be provided (it is served only by one bus currently) and how all of this will be decided. Will consultation be wide and reach all users and stakeholders? And will we and our GPs be listened to?

It was an extremely robust meeting. The Better Local Healthcare Campaign group are extremely concerned that this is a privatisation of our health care. They raised the issue of the building actually being used for residential or commercial purposes. Richard Sumray, the Chair of Haringey PCT, denied this categorically and said whilst it had been in early proposals as alternatives – it had fallen as they had managed to find funding without the need for either of those proposals.

There is no doubt that there will be some private provision. That is Labour’s avowed proposition – that 15% of our health provision will come from the private sector. However, from what I could tell at the meeting, there is a fundamental commitment to this being and remaining an NHS service. I guess that we all have so little faith in what the Labour government tells us – especially because there have been so many varied incarnations of promises on Hornsey Hospital – that we are all concerned that what we are told may not be what happens.

My key issue is GP practices. The Trust is quite clear that some current GPs will have to move into the new, super-centre – otherwise it would not be viable. They deny absolutely that they are looking for a 50,000 patient list – but that they will commence with 15,000 rising to 25,000 years hence. Moreover – all practices will be able to use the new facilities – and thus a network of better health services will be provided locally.

My concern, which I raised pretty strongly, was that all the GPs and practices are really brought into the planning of this new facility. I have had reports from GPs of feeling pressured, being concerned that if they don’t move in or do what the Trust wants they will be punished financially and so on. So I asked the Chair about coercion, punishment, engagement etc with GPs and they absolutely promised that this (engagement, not punishment!) starts now. If they do work together – then this could be a real step forward. If the Trust steamrollers its way through and doesn’t listen to local people and GPs – it will be the opposite.

In terms of the concerns around local pharmacies in Crouch End being adversely affected – the Trust seems to be talking to them about them forming a collective to run the new pharmacy themselves. If this could come to fruition that would be a good way forward and an inclusive one. I haven’t heard recently from the local pharmacies – so I hope that it is as we were told at the meeting.

Lastly – transport. You couldn’t choose a worse placed site for lack of public transport. Only one bus now runs there. I have twice met with Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport in London on this issue – as the last thing we should be creating is more car journeys or poor access to such a facility for local people. On each occasion Peter has said – when it is a live project – let me know.

Well – with financial closure this is very live! And as my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Gail Engert (Muswell Hill) pointed out – it takes Transport for London a couple of years generally to get going on a new route (let alone the decade it took for the 603). So after the meeting I suggested to Richard that now is the moment to really push the transport aspect forward.

More generally – Richard Sumray has promised that over the coming weeks and months we will be given specifics and be consulted on this. I have over the recent weeks put out a health survey door to door (cos not everyone goes to these meetings or even hears about them) and part of the health survey is about what local people want at Hornsey Hospital. When they all come back – I will be feeding in the views to the Health Trust too.