The rally outside the hospital. Below: Campaigners hold a mock board meeting
Campaigners wearing black cat masks
Published: 26 April, 2013
by TOM FOOT
BOARD members at the Whittington Hospital walked out of their monthly meeting on Wednesday after being confronted by sell-off protesters wearing black cat masks and carrying megaphones.
NHS campaigners, outraged at plans to sell large chunks of the hospital site in Archway, then staged their own mock board meeting in their absence.
Normally board meetings are held in public, but members retreated to a private backroom after two minutes of singing and chants of “resign”. Around 30 opponents of the hospital plans were there.
The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition had demanded to speak at the meeting following the board decision to make massive staff cuts and sell a huge swathe of publicly-owned land.
Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin told the board: “I have just been told we have not been allowed to speak at this meeting. We think you should resign.”
Whittington chairman Jo Liddane said: “If the meeting is disrupted we will adjourn and hold it in private.”
Security guards flanked the entrance to a private backroom as a key debate about the future of the hospital was later held behind closed doors.
The protests came as it was revealed two senior directors – chief architects of the controversial staff-cut proposals – have quit the board. Director of people Margaret Boltwood, overseeing plans to cut 570 staff from the hospital, and chief operations officer Maria Da Silva, in charge of staff “streamlining”, have stepped down.
The departures are not being linked to opposition to the plans.
Yesterday (Thursday) it was announced that director of planning and programmes Fiona Smith, in charge of the Whittington’s crucial application for foundation trust status, is also departing, on May 14.
She is to become deputy chief executive of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals.
Campaigners protested on Wednesday as part of a “Day of Action”.
Songs composed specially for the day were sung by around 50 protesters outside the hospital’s main entrance in Magdala Avenue.
Staff joined in, singing along to “Turn Again Whittington”, “Foundation Trust Mammogram” and “Ode to Privatisation”.
Protests had been held outside surgeries and schools earlier in the day.
Natalie Bennett, leader of the national Green Party, spoke outside the hospital at a rally before the board meeting. She said: “There is no replacement for a hospital bed when you really need a hospital bed.”
The Tribune revealed last month that the Whittington was axing staff in its maternity unit – a move that attracted criticism from Labour leader of Islington Council Catherine West at the rally outside the hospital.
She said: “It is absolute madness to reduce the maternity service. It is illogical in the current climate. We want to defend all the jobs at the hospital.”
She added: “We do not want the Whittington to be swallowed up by the Royal Free Hospital or the University College Hospital either.”
The Whittington faces being taken over by another trust if it cannot meet a deadline, currently fixed for June, for submitting its foundation trust application.
WHITTINGTON bosses have been ordered to “take action” after inspectors found patients are routinely being treated on the wrong wards because of bed closures, writes Tom Foot.
The Care Quality Commission – the independent health watchdog – has published an otherwise glowing report on standards of care at the hospital.
Nine inspectors spoke to 60 patients or relatives, 40 staff members and looked at 20 patient records in January, finding a “strong sense of pride” about the Archway NHS trust.
But, in a 30-page report, inspectors said: “At the time of the inspection the care of older people with general medical needs on other specialist wards was placing them at risk of unsafe care and not having their needs met.”
It added: “Staff noted that a reduction in older people’s beds led to some people being treated on wards designated for other specialisms.”
Staff told the inspectors that “strange combinations” of misplaced patients – known as “medical outliers” – had followed enforced bed closures at St Ann’s Hospital, in Tottenham.
Stroke patients there had been transferred to Whittington’s elderly patients ward, Cavell. It meant elderly patients – many with dementia – had taken over Betty Mansell ward, normally reserved for women having gynaecological surgery.
The CQC said: “There had been a rise in the number of older patients needing high levels of support. On Betty Mansell ward, designated a female gynaecology ward, all but five patients were older people with general medicine needs, including three patients with dementia.”
The report added: “We also found a high number of older patients on Mercers ward, who did not have gastroenterology, oncology and haematology needs.”
The nurse in charge of Betty Mansell ward told inspectors that gynaecological patients had to go to other wards because it was full up with elderly patients.
The inspection report noted: “A patient said: ‘All the nurses have been very kind and helpful’ but ‘when I first came here I thought I was on an elderly ward, it’s very noisy and there is lots of screaming’.
“When a young patient was given grave news about her gynaecological condition, she was asked why she was crying repeatedly by an older patient in the next bed.”
The report added: “Staff said: ‘We have a very strange combination of gynaecology patients and older people. It’s been like this for the past few months – they have very different needs’.”
Apart from problems associated with pressure on beds, the Whittington passed 10 out of 11 legal tests for patient care.
Hospital chief executive Dr Yi Mien Koh said: “Overall the report was complimentary about the quality of care provided by the Whittington Hospital.
“We took immediate action to achieve compliance with the standard which related to the care of medical outliers on Betty Mansell ward.”
Betty Mansell ward is one of three wards being shut as part of major changes at the hospital, which include plans to close up to 177 beds over five years.