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Catherine West demands urgent meeting with Whittington Hospital bosses, following part sell-off shock

The Tribune backed a campaign to save the  Whittington’s A&E  department  in 20

Bring back the bus! The Tribune backed a campaign to save the Whittington’s A&E department in 2010

Published: 25 January, 2013
by TOM FOOT

COMMENT: Why it's time for action again

THE leader of Islington Council will demand an urgent meeting with top bosses of the Whittington this morning (Friday) after NHS bosses rubber-stamped the sale of half the hospital site.

Catherine West said it was very “worrying” to learn from the Tribune that the Archway hospital is being cut in two ­following a boardroom decision.

The Tribune’s reporter was the only media representative in the meeting to watch the doomsday plans’ approval in five minutes and without any public debate on Wednesday.

The proposals will see the entire north side of the hospital shut down.

It means:
• inpatient wards closed and dozens of beds for the elderly and new parents axed;
• all NHS staff accom­modation – including more than 70 rooms and flats for nurses and social workers – closed and sold; and
• births at the hospital “capped” at 4,000 a year to save money.

Cllr West said: “What we will end up with then is a community health facility, and all the tertiary services will be in UCH and the Royal Free.

We will seek an immediate meeting with [chairman] Joe Liddane and [chief executive] Yi Mien Koh first thing in the morning. It is very worrying.”

She added that she and MP Jeremy Corbyn had met with the hospital’s bosses in December but had not been told about the major plans.

Approving the decision, Mr Liddane said “we can­not afford not to do this”, adding: “If we sit still, we will go backwards.”

Sources have suggested that the massive down­sizing of the hospital has been tabled as a statement of intent to smooth an application for Foundation Trust status.

The bid to become an independently run hospital rests on bosses being able to prove “financial viability”. As part of a major cutting drive this year worth £13.1million, 350 jobs – a third of the entire workforce – have been threatened with the axe.

A report to the board said: “Workforce numbers had been recast from 850-900 to 550, and might be reduced still further.”

The government has advised hospitals they should seek Foundation status or risk being taken over. Critics have reminded officials of the massive march and public protest, partly organised by the  Tribune, against the ­closure of the hos­pital’s A&E department and maternity unit in 2010.

It was suggested that the fresh sell-off plans ran against the spirit of ­commit­ments that were given then.

The plans, detailed in a 102-page, five-year, board-level document, “encapsulates our corporate view of the world”, according to its author, director of estates and facilities Philip Lent.

The report recommends that all “services on the main site that do not directly contribute to the corporate objectives shall be considered and, where agreed, discontinued”.

The decision follows a decision to axe 22 medical secretaries following a controversial reorgan­i­sation led by the former car parts company, Unipart.

One staff member told the Tribune that the secretaries had been classed as “wastage”.

The “estates strategy” is to sell off £17m worth of buildings in the north half of the hospital’s huge site in Highgate. Some “essential services” would be transferred to refurbished buildings in the south half of the site, the report says. The majority of the funds raised will be used to refurbish maternity services at the hospital.

The A&E unit would not be threatened by the down­siz­ing. Shirley Franklin, who led the campaign against the A&E closure as chair­woman of Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “This is to do with the cuts – we are still paying our NI [national insur­ance] and taxes and payi­ng for our health service that is being decimated. We would like to work with the health unions to oppose these cuts.”

The changes would mean the closure of Murray ward – with 19 beds for post-natal care – Betty Mansell women’s health ward, which opened in 2006 and is named in honour of a long-standing Whittington gynaecol­ogist who died in 2004. Cloudesley and Meyrick – stroke rehabilitation wards for the elderly – would also shut if the estates strategy is implemented.

The report says: “The area to the north of the main building is the easiest to release for disposal or to vacate to create space for other revenue-generating departments.”

The report says that “from 2016, all on-site residences will be closed”. This includes the sale of six blocks, including Grade II-listed Jenner Building, where newborn babies and parents go after giving difficult births.

The blocks include 34 nursing homes, 18 rooms for on-call staff, 11 two-bedroom flats and a doctor’s flat. The report says that the “institutional nature of the nurses’ homes is not approp­riate for modern residential provision”.

Whitting­ton Educa­tion Centre – the training centre for post­grad­uates – would be moved into a boiler room on the main site.

The physio­therapists’ block would be moved to Finsbury Health Centre in Clerkenwell. A sensory garden, opened last year, would be sold.
The “disposal value” is estimated at £17m with the Trust’s total assets valued at £118m.

The hospital intends to use a digital system run by Dictate IT, a company set up and owned by GPs in Camden and Islington. The firm sends doctors’ voice-recorded notes to India for transcription.  scoped”.

One of the dismissed medical secretaries told the Tribune that top consultants had already started leaving the hospital, adding: “Some of my colleagues are quite old. They have got no chance of getting another job outside.

“It is all very sneaky and very depressing. We don’t feel like coming in.”

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