Royal Free paediatrics: Campaigners demand transparency as NHS chiefs defend ‘temporary’ Covid-19 changes to hospitals

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of C

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

NHS bosses have moved to reassure the public about the future of the Royal Free Hospital’s children’s A&E, amid calls for senior decision-makers to answer questions from concerned locals.

Writing in the Ham&High, senior medics from north London hospitals, have justified the move to close a number of children’s services at the Royal Free temporarily.

The decision to close the A&E, and move a number of other paediatric services away from the Royal Free this winter was made by the North London Partners group – a collaboration involving local health authorities across Camden, Haringey, Barnet, Islington and Enfield.

READ MORE: North London hospital changes ‘temporary and have been thought through’ say NHS bossesREAD MORE: Royal Free Hospital’s paediatric services to close for winter as part of Covid-19 planThe senior staff, including the Royal Free’s group chief medical director, Dr Chris Streather, and chief nurse Julie Hamilton write: “As we all brace ourselves for a further Covid-19 surge, we would ask patients and the public to understand that these decisions are never taken lightly, are not implemented unless we are assured they are safe, and that any permanent changes would require full public consultation.”

It is understood that a number of nurses have resigned over the changes, with a number of junior doctors having written to the Healthwatch Camden watchdog expressing their concerns.

Senior clinicians have aired fears that this move represents the longer-term “direction of travel” planned by the NHS locally.

One top doctor at the hospital told this newspaper: “Unless the community knows and protests about this, it will be there loss, permanently.”

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, the Hampstead campaigner who has started a petition, which now has more than 1,700 signatures calling for the changes to be reversed, said: “They didn’t engage patients. They need to reverse the decision. It’s not just a question of leaving it to be ‘temporary’. If it is, it’ll soon become permanent. The Royal Free is a massive building, they have to find space for children. They can’t be asked to go to the Whittington or even to Barnet.”

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Linda Chung, a former councillor who has in the past served as a non-executive director on local health trusts, said: “There should have been pubic consultation, the public want to know what’s happening. The point is it’s a local hospital.

“Much of my life’s work has been in hospitals, I think they need to be accountable. I want to call for them to answer questions in public.”

North London Partners have yet to respond to calls to appear at a public meeting discussing the changes.