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A&E is vital service, says former Whittington chairman

PUBLISHED: 14:35 26 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:34 07 September 2010

A FORMER chairman of the Whittington Hospital has pitched in to condemn the possible closure of the accident and emergency department. Professor Eric Moonman, who presided over the Highgate Hill hospital from 1983 to 1995, said it would be dis

Tan Parsons

A FORMER chairman of the Whittington Hospital has pitched in to condemn the possible closure of the accident and emergency department.

Professor Eric Moonman, who presided over the Highgate Hill hospital from 1983 to 1995, said it would be disastrous for the department to close and called for a much wider consultation among professionals and the public before any decisions are made.

His reaction echoes that of frontline medics last week who responded angrily to a missive from North Central London NHS bosses setting out four options for the reorganisation of nearby hospitals - each of which meant downgrading the Whittington to a "local hospital" with no accident and emergency department and no specialist services.

Former MP Prof Moonman, who is now involved with City and Liverpool universities, said: "The reaction since the report in the Ham&High has been one of shock. Accident and emergency is often the public face of a hospital. The open door of the department is also a very good way of keeping staff and doctors in touch with the local community.

"As chairman I would do what a lot of doctors did - I would walk the wards. I would go on Saturday nights to A&E and if there was difficulty with any of the patients or what's more probable is with their friends or family, I was there.

"I think the Whittington Hospital management over the last governorship seems to have gone adrift. They should have ransacked every possible idea apart from closing the A&E department."

He said it made sense for the Whittington to look at how it could work better with the Royal Free but that considering closing the hospital's accident and emergency department was going way too far.

"Every public institution - especially in the health service - has looked at the way it's been managed and governed," he said.

"But what I want to know is where this idea came from. Is it from the Department of Health? The department starts off by sending the hospital a directive but this has gone much further than that. It may be that it never materialises but that it has been imagined as an option is very bad."

Prof Moonman believes that before considering any kind of reshuffle of hospital services there has to be a full consultation and a consideration of the quality of available GP services and the likely effect on what he calls the "outward looking nature of the accident and emergency department".

He added: "You cannot just cut off a limb of a health service and say it will be offered elsewhere. At various times over the last 20 years I think there's always been an attempt to try to place specialist services in one centre. If some of the authorities had their way they would just have one hospital in the whole of London. This may seem like an easy option but it's the services you need."

Despite the document being sent out Rob Larkman, the Whittington's chief executive has denied there are plans afoot to close his accident and emergency department. Both he and the Royal Free's chief executive David Sloman have confirmed they are in talks about a merger, however.

According to the letter sent to hospital staff by North Central London NHS, the options for a reshuffle of hospital services are due to be appraised in January.

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