Stunning turn out for Whittington Hospital
Over 500 people crammed into the Archway Methodist Hall tonight to save Whittington Hospital
Two weeks ago Camden New Journal journalist Tom Foot broke the plans to sell off of 17 million pounds worth of buildings and sack 570 staff that had been kept secret from the public. Back in 2010, 10,000 local people came out to protest against Whittington Hospital cuts. They succeeded in getting them overturned, along with winning a “no cuts at Whittington” promise from all the major parties. But in power the Tories have delivered the Health and Social Care Bill, which has unleashed market competition, and given the green light to cuts and sell-offs.
Given this backdrop, the anger at the launch meeting of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition tonight was to be expected. Owen Jones summed up the mood in the room when he said, “You’ve picked a fight with the wrong local community”.
Local MPs had not been consulted on the plans – shrouded in secrecy until weeks ago. Hospital chief executive, Dr Yi Mien Koh, and the Whittington board were clearly unnerved by the response of the local community. He went out of his way to stress that 11 of 13 board members were here to “listen and address concerns”, even daring to add they were “local residents that cared passionately about Whittington”. We were treated to a classic managerial non-apology, as he said, “we know we have mishandled communication and we apologise for that” but insisted there were “no secrets”.
The meeting followed a refreshing structure. It kicked off with hospital execs being directly grilling by local residents from the floor, before then moving on to hear from local MPs, finding more time for questions, and closing with health privatisation activists and campaigners.
Local MP Jeremy Corbyn was in the chair and the MPs present were each given four minutes, “the same amount of time they get to speak against it in parliament”, giving plenty of scope for residents and activists to have their say. High energy abounded and there was more scope for interchange than the normal speeches, discussion, come-back format.
Trade unionists spoke up from the floor, many linking the fight to defend jobs with good services, but this wasn’t a trade union meeting. It drew in the whole working class community.
Many pointed out how it was impossible to rely on care in the community to step in for hospital cuts when local government services were facing historic cutbacks. A Whittington Hospital consultant said the plans were completely un-piloted, reported that current staff levels were the minimum necessary to guarantee patient safety, and raised the terrifying prospect of “another mid-Staffordshire in North London” if the cuts go ahead.
Frank Dobson MP asked, “who are they selling the hospital grounds too – it’s zoned for health”, and suggested we might face the grim prospect of an American health corporation taking over the site and competing with public service providers for patients.
One of the best contributions of the night was given by the activist from Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign. He described how they built up the huge local demonstration a couple of weeks ago, called on the campaigns to link up and put pressure on the unions to call a London-wide, or even national, mass demonstration. And added, we should “do it together anyway”, if they refuse to budge again. All in all it was an excellent start to the campaign. If the Whittington Hospital Trust Board don’t budge, there will be a massive march in North London currently pencilled in for the 16th March.