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SAVE OUR WHITTINGTON: Health chiefs face fresh grilling but give no guarantee consultation will save A & E

whittington meeting hornsey

Pictured: Rachel Tyndall, Richard Sumray and Lynne Featherstone

FRIDAY MARCH 5, 2010

By RICHARD OSLEY

PATIENTS celebrating the success of the Save The Whittington Hospital march were brought down to earth last night when key administrators warned that widespread opposition might not be enough to stop accident and emergency services being axed.

At a meeting organised by Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone in Hornsey, neither Rachel Tyndall, Chairwoman of the North Central London (NCL) review panel or Richard Sumray, chairman of the Haringey Primary Care Trusy, could offer any assurance that the facility would be protected should a negative public response be confirmed in official consultation survey.
Mr Sumray would not go stronger than saying the views gathered in the upcoming survey would be "hugely important".
Members of the 300 strong audience in the Greig Academy school hall had wanted a pledge that if there was no support for an overhaul of hospitals in north London, the plans would be abandoned.
An annoyed grimace fell across Mr Sumray's face on the main stage when it was suggested by a heckler that he did not understand the question. "In health, people are always very resistant to change, generally they like what they've got," he said. "So any change we have to make needs to have a compelling case. I am not going to say - and noone would say - what will happen as a consequence of consultation. All of the comments will be taken into account but I can't tell you what the final decision will be now."
The accident and emergency department and the maternity unit face the act in a wave of £500 million cuts and a re-organisation which will see patients treated in new, smaller GP surgeries. The Defend Whittington Hospital coalition organised one of the biggest marches in recent memory in north London on Saturday afternoon, with help from unions and the New Journal. We have run a Save Our Whittington campaign since November.
Ms Tyndall, who has so far born much of the brunt of the anger surrounding the campaign against the cuts, told the meeting she was proud "to be a public servant" working for the NHS, but said it was her job to test the private market over health services.
"We have all read in the newspapers about the public sector deficit," she said. "We have to get the best value for tax-payers money. It's all of ours money and we have to make sure its spent in the wisest possible way."
Back on the subject of  the future of the Whittington specifically, she admitted there was a chance that ambulances in the future could drive "past the front door of the hospital and go to an alternative hospital instead", if one set of suggested changes were introduced.
When the audience murmured that the Royal Free in Hampstead was already too busy and unable to cope with thousands more patients, Ms Tyndall said that if hospitals worked in a more "efficient and productive way, there would be greater capacity".
She added: "I don't know what willl happen because we haven't yet made a decision about the Whittington Hospital."
Ms Featherstone, the Hornsey and Wood Green MP who was in the front line of marchers on Saturday when 5,000 protetsters stopped traffic in Holloway Road on their way to the hospital forecourt, said: "I don't think my guests see things in the same way - and that's putting things mildly. Nobody I have spoken to either in this room or out there, thinks these proposals are a good idea. Given that, why don't they refocus on keeping it open and making it work."

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