The Independent London Newspaper

 

Is U-turn on the way over big Whittington Hospital sell-off?

Published: 28 June, 2013
by TOM FOOT

WHITTINGTON bosses gave a strong ­indication of “significant” changes to the hospital’s controversial sell-off proposals this week after being forced back to the drawing board by politicians, patients – and the Tribune.

The Archway NHS Trust is set to reveal a new plan next month following a three-month “listening exercise” triggered by a massive outcry following its decision to sell a third of the hospital’s land, axe 590 posts, cap the number of births and treat patients at home and in neighbourhood health centres.

It was revealed this week in a board meeting that the whole scheme had been transformed and would be agreed next month.

Campaigners say this only happened because the board had “a gun held to its head”. They have demanded the new strategy is put to the public before it is rubber-stamped.

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin said: “If they have changed something they should tell us about it. They should put those changes to the public rather than presenting it as a final idea in July and simply agreeing it just like they did before. Let’s discuss it first.”

She added: “The issue is transparency. There has been a total lack of transparency and we are concerned that this will happen again.”

The Whittington board was forced to look again at its plans after being hauled into the House of Commons by five angry MPs following a Tribune exclusive in January.

Despite meeting hospital chiefs the month before, the senior politicians had not been made aware about the huge overhaul. Islington Council held urgent talks with the hospital after the news broke.

It also emerged that hospital governors had not been told about the move.

Thousands of patients and supporters marched in protest at the decision, warning against the lack of meaningful consultation and claiming that the huge swathe of public buildings and land was not the board’s to sell.

The board says it has since held six public meetings, 10 staff briefings, three open days and “many” meetings between the board, MPs, councils, the London Assembly and GP leaders.

On Wednesday, Robert Aitken, acting chairman of the hospital, was asked to answer a list of 10 questions about the original proposals from the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition campaign group.

Filling in for chairman Joe Liddane, who is on care leave, he said that the group’s questions were now effectively redundant as the scheme “may have been subject to significant changes” and had been “taken over by recent events”.

When asked whether the newly-built Whittington Education Centre, the building where the board meetings are held, was “up for sale”, Mr Aiken said: “This building is not up for sale.”

He said that all would be revealed in a full and detailed report that would be discussed at next month’s board meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, hospital finance chief Richard Martin had said there was “uncertainty” over how much funding would come from the sale of the hospital’s estate.

Chief executive Yi Mien Koh said the process had been “very useful”, adding: “We want to grow the organisation. There will be a demand, there will be a need. But we know that going forward the budget is going to be very tight.”

The board heard about an “unprecedented” surge in demand at the accident and emergency department, which was threatened with closure three years ago in the last major attack on the Whittington.

The next board meeting is on July 24.

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