MP Corbyn: A&E closure will have serious consequences

MP Jeremy Corbyn has chaired two meetings at which thepublic have confronted NHS bosses over plans to downsize the Whittington Hospital and leave it without a 24-hour A&E unit. He talks to Tan Parsons about why it is important to take a stand

Tan Parsons

Public outrage has grown exponentially since a letter to NHS staff was leaked last year - outlining plans to reshuffle services in Camden, Islington, Barnet, Haringey and Enfield.

It would leave the Whittington - which sees more than 80,000 emergency patients every year - with no A&E department or specialist services.

If the plans proceed, patients from Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Highgate would probably need to travel further to University College London or the Royal Free Hospital for emergency treatment.

When MP Jeremy Corbyn first learned of the proposals, he was told not to worry as there would be a full consultation.

But what he learned next irritated him so much that he called for an immediate meeting with those responsible to hold them accountable.

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He had discovered that the group - North Central London NHS - had hired a company to run a focus group about the proposals involving just 80 people and this would form part of the consultation process. He said: "I smelled an enormous rat - as any rational human being would. So I called the first public meeting on it. According to these proposals, only Camden and Enfield will have casualty units and that is not a good idea."

To her credit, North Central London NHS chief executive Rachel Tyndall agreed to attend both that meeting and a subsequent one last month to address public concerns.

But Mr Corbyn says the group still needs to be more open about the plans. He said: "I think on a personal level, she does her best. But she doesn't have the answers because there's this planning group for the north central region. I wish I knew who they are.

"What I really don't like about it is the subterfuge behind it - memos wandering around in the NHS."

He believes that any consultation over the hospital's future should ask the questions: "Are you satisfied with having a local A&E department or not? How would you like to change it? And what do you think your health needs are in the area and do the Whittington and local GP services meet them?"

Mr Corbyn says that if the A&E was to close it would effectively lead to the Whittington becoming nothing more than a glorified health centre.

He cites the case of the former Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway Road that lost its own A&E before going on to be demolished in the mid-1990s.

He said: "I'm not opposed to improving primary care but you don't improve it by taking away what's already very good.

"Closing the A&E would mean the Whittington couldn't do a lot of complicated elective surgery because it would not have the intensive care unit. The hospital would very quickly decline.

"Even ignoring the amount of money that has been spent on the casualty unit and the new block, it would be disastrous for the care and support for people locally."

He says that there has always been a problem with accountability in the NHS - because you have myriad groups including hospital boards, regional health authorities and local health authorities.

He said: "I think the planners are over-managing the resources available. They are working on the principle of quite large cuts in spending over the next five years. It's not clear who's telling them to make these cuts.

"There is an increasing population in north London and therefore increasing demand on health resources. And there is a very large number of poor people who tend to be greater users of the health service. So I don't understand what the basis for this planning is."

In terms of next moves, he is trying to mobilise his fellow MPs in all the boroughs affected by the reshuffle and pressing for a meeting with the planners.

He also pledges to join a group marching against the proposals on February 27. This will lead protesters past the Whittington's A&E entrance in Highgate Hill.

But he warns that this will be far from the end of the battle.

He said: "What these public meetings have shown is that there's huge support for the local hospitals. I'm delighted and moved by the degree of activity, support and occupation of everyone in this campaign.