EXCLUSIVE: VICTORY FOR WHITTINGTON HOSPITAL CAMPAIGNERS AS ‘COMPLETE HALT' IS ORDERED ON CLOSURE PLAN

Thursday, 29th April 2010

IMG_4142

Thursday April 29, 2010

EXCLUSIVE By TOM FOOT

THE New Journal and Islington Tribune today (Thursday) declares a monumental victory in the campaign to save the Whittington Hospital after Health Secretary Andy Burnham contacted our newsdesk to say he has ordered a “complete halt” to wretched plans to close down its services.

In a London exclusive, Mr Burnham told our reporting team: “It is inconceivable that Labour would support the closing or downgrading of the Whittington A&E or it’s maternity service.”

The minister’s intervention follows the inspirational people power which saw thousands march through the streets in a campaign backed and organised by volunteers, patients, doctors, and journalists at the New Journal and our sister paper, the Islington Tribune.

Mr Burnham’s decisive comments means all of the main parties have vowed to scrap the deeply unpopular plans to close the Highgate hospital’s treasured services. Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, who will be in charge of the NHS if the Tories win next week’s General Election, and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg have already pledged to keep the hospital as it is. Mr Lansley, in fact, confirmed his commitment in a visit to Camden yesterday (Wednesday).

With the final piece in the jigsaw, Mr Burnham decided to use the New Journal to confirm the news we have all been waiting, campaigning and hoping for. He said: “I will order a complete halt in the process that is being run and I’m asking NHS London to go back to the drawing board. As a government we only support changes in the NHS when the local clinicians propose them and when there is evidence that they will improve quality and save lives.”

Mr Burnham added: “The Whittington A&E is a vital service in its local community. This is a service in which we have invested £32 million over the past few years and as far as I’ve seen there is no clinical evidence or clinical support for any kind of downgrading or closure. On that basis, it’s simply inconceivable that Labour would support the closing or downgrading of the Whittington A&E or its maternity service.”

The hospital’s 100 consultants and the British Medical Association had fought the proposals.

Mr Burnham’s statement, secured after behind the scenes pressure this week from Labour MPs Emily Thornberry, Frank Dobson and Jeremy Corbyn, has been applauded by the Defend Whittington Hospital Campaign.

DWHC co-chairwoman Shirley Franklin, who has helped collect more than 13,000 signatures and organised the mass march, said: “It is wonderful news. People power,  the press and all the politicians really came together on this one. We have had 16,000 sign our petition, 5,000 out marching – it is this that has forced the issue so that politicians have taken our side.”

Hundreds are expected to assemble for a second public rally outside the Highgate hospital from midday today (Thursday). Frontline hospital staff have been told they will be disciplined if they leave their posts to join the protest. But they can now watch the rally from the windows of the hospital – as they did in February – in the knowledge that whichever party is elected on May 6 their jobs no longer face an immediate threat. 

The day of action could even now turn into a celebration, albeit with speeches that will demand every politician is now held to their words.

Ms Thornberry  said: “I have been lobbying, bordering on stalking the Secretary of State for this. I am very pleased that now we can say without doubt that the A&E and maternity services have been saved.”

As they assembled outside the hospital last night, Mr Dobson said: “I am very pleased to say that the dickheads have lost,” while Jeremy Corbyn: “I am delighted by the minister’s statement. A big thanks to must go the Camden New Journal and the Islington Tribune – a real community newspaper – for getting behind the issue so strongly.”

The campaign began in November after an internal memo revealing the cuts was leaked to this newspaper. Hundreds attended two major public meetings before Christmas and Mr Corbyn secured two parliamentary debates in the House of Commons. Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone in neighbouring Hornsey and Wood Green also took up the cudgels in Parliament.

It was not until February that the changes were officially proposed by the North Central London (NCL) sector. The unelected health quango – headed by NHS Islington chief executive Rachel Tyndall – claimed up to 60 per cent of the 80,000 patients admitted to the Whittington A&E each year could be “more effectively treated” in doctors surgeries and “lower-cost settings”.

That assumption was later rejected by GPs and described as “not standing up to scrutiny” by two official reports by the BMA and Primary Care Foundation.

There was no word coming out of NCL when the New Journal went to press last night (Wednesday), but questions will be asked as to why, in the face of such universal opposition, they continued to press ahead with plans that have brought so much distress to so many people in north London? Our enquiries show that more than 60 managers have been working full time on the controversial review since July with an annual budget of £2.3 million.

For more information contact www.dwhc.org

TOM FOOT is the journalist who first broke the story that the Whittington Hospital’s Accident and Emergency was under threat in an article published in the Islington Tribune in July 2008. In a series of campaigning articles, he reported on how the campaign to save the hospital developed among volunteers and sat in on the planning meetings for the 5,000-strong protest march in February. His work was later praised by MPs in the House of Commons.

Related Articles