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Community battle to fight Whittington Hospital sell-off

08:00 31 January 2013

History repeats itself? Demonstrations march to save the Whittington Hospital

History repeats itself? Demonstrations march to save the Whittington Hospital's A&E department in 2010. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

Campaigners have launched a battle to stop the proposed sale of almost half the Whittington Hospital and prevent ward closures labelled “disgraceful” by the community.

In a shock decision last week the hospital board approved the sale of the north half of the site in Magdala Avenue, Highgate, in order to raise £17 million as it moves towards Foundation Trust status.

To be considered the hospital needs to have made a saving of £4.8million by March this year.

The five-year plan, known as the Estates Strategy, involves the sale of 8,375 square metres of land in the north of the hospital site - about the size of a football pitch.

The 102 page document states that some “essential services” will be relocated to buildings in the south of the campus.

But the sell-off will result in the loss of dozens of beds for the elderly and new mothers, as well as the loss of accommodation for nurses.

Births at the Whittington will also be capped at 4,000 a year in order to save money.

Wards will be closed, including the Betty Mansell health ward which provides health care to women, the Murray ward which has 19 beds for post-natal care, and the Cloudsley and Meyrick wards which provide stroke rehabilitation for the elderly.

If the proposals go ahead, the hospital will also become the third NHS organisation in the country to go “paper less”, resulting in the sale of the Grade II listed Jenner building which is currently used for administration.

Training space for undergraduates will also be lost.

A petition started by the Defend The Whittington Coalition campaign group was signed by more than 100 people within 24 hours of its launch on Sunday (January 27) and campaigners are mobilising residents who will be hit hardest by loss of services.

Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of Defend The Whittington Coalition, said the proposed sell-off was an “absolute disgrace”.

She said: “We need to make our anger visible. Our health needs are being threatened.

“It’s our hospital and there was no talking to the community. The way the decision was made looks dodgy.

“It feels like they have no respect for our NHS and no respect for social care.”

She added: “They’re selling off the family silver. Those buildings were built for health.”

An urgent meeting was held with the hospital’s chief executive, MPs and councillors on Monday (January 28), and Whittington Health was also called to the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon (January 29) to explain the proposals.

The Defend The Whittington Coalition is planning to hold a protest march in two months - and believes it will match the scale of protests attended by thousands that helped save the hospital’s Accident and Emergency department when it was threatened with closure in 2010.

Campaigners also hope to involve high profile local organisations, such as Arsenal Football Club, in the fight to stop the sale.

Among the groups that have already voiced support are Defend Haringey Health Services and Camden Keep Our NHS Public (KONP).

In a statement, the Whittington Hospital said the Estates Strategy “responded to the health trends of our local population”.

A spokeswoman said: “More people are receiving healthcare in their homes, health centres and GP surgeries.

“Over time the dependency on hospital wards will decrease, which will see some staff relocate to health centres.”

The Whittington said that over the next five years it plans to invest £10 million in maternity services, £2.9million on a new assessment centre for those who do no require hospital admission and £7million on an electronic patient record system.

The Defend The Whittington Coalition will hold a public meeting on Valentine’s Day with speakers including Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, Tottenham MP David Lammy and Cllr Catherine West, leader of Islington Council.

Campaigners will also stage a protest outside the hospital’s next board meeting on February 27.

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