The Independent London Newspaper


WHITTINGTON PROTEST MARCH - Thousands rally against planned closure of hospital's A&E and maternity units

Lib Dem council leader Terry Stacy, MP Emily Thornberry, Tottenham MP David Lamm

Published: 5 March 2010

THE Tribune can today  reveal how Britain’s medical fraternity are planning a revolt against the healthcare cuts threatening to rob the Whittington Hospital of its accident and emergency and maternity departments. 

Doctors are pressing home their point on the back of the extraordinary march which saw 5,000 people gather in protest on Saturday.

We have learned how medics will take up the cudgels of the campaign and make their objections to downgrading the Archway hospital clear.

Experts at the British Medical Association – the doctors’ union – believe the plans, part of a £500million funding cut to London’s hospitals, “do not hold up to scru­tiny” and threaten to ­“dismember” the Whittington.

The North Central London (NCL) sector NHS Trust in Islington insists the cuts will not compromise patients, who will instead be treated at the Royal Free in Hampstead or in newly-built GP health centres. But Dr Jacky Davis, a consultant at the Whittington and an elected member of the BMA, told a meeting in the Great Hall of its headquarters in Bloomsbury: “So far these plans have been like opening Pandora’s Box. All kinds of horrible things have flown out. It is time to talk about action. 

“Doctors are not the best at campaigning, or organising – it’s like herding cats. But it’s no longer good enough to collectively keep our heads down.” The BMA has now effectively issued a call to arms to its 140,000 members, urging them to protest. 

The intervention by medical professionals will undermine any attempt by decision-makers to say that the thousands who march­ed have not properly understood the changes. 

Saturday’s turnout will not be easy to ignore. It exceeded expectations as the protest march stop­ped traffic from Highbury Corner through Holloway and on to Highgate Hill. It included politicians from mainstream parties, patients and musicians, including Red Jen Matthias’ band and The Whittington Wildcats jazz band. There were famous faces from the stage as well, as actors Bill Paterson and Juliet Stevenson seized placards.

­As part of our Save Our Whittington campaign, the Tribune led the march with a battle bus, hired with Unison campaigners. Outside the hospital in Magdala Avenue, protest organisers, the Defend Whittington Coalition, unleashed a series of powerful speakers.

Behind the scenes, doctors are understood to have been implored to stay away from the controversy, but Dr Davis said at Thursday’s meeting: “The BMA will support staff groups that speak out against this. This is not a time to be without a union. We need a pan-London coalition.”

The pledge of support to medical staff means they should now feel more confident in expressing their fears. Some have only felt able to speak “off the record”.

The BMA recently commissioned Professor John Lister to investigate plans for hospitals in London. His report, London’s NHS On The Brink, reveals how health chiefs are gearing up for a “wholesale reduction in hospital services”, in­cluding cutting 37 per cent of the budget for nursing costs and up to 43 per cent of spending on doctors. One third of London’s hospital beds hang in the balance.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “GPs are not geared up for speedy treatments. 

“The die has been cast – but if every single person rose up en masse, who knows?”



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