We didn't have time to go anywhere other than the Whittington

Ham&High Editor Geoff Martin gives his personal account on why the Whittington A&E is so important to him.

Everyone who wants to see the Whittington Hospital's A&E unit survive has their own reason for supporting the campaign, and most are deeply personal. Mine is no different. Mine is because it saved my wife's life.

Around this time last year, on a wintry Saturday afternoon, I was just about to leave home to attend a memorial celebration for the life of former Ham&High music critic David Sonin, a lovely man and also a victim of cancer.

I was just about to say my goodbyes when I was stopped in my tracks by a muffled cry from the bathroom, where my wife Sue had collapsed in what seemed like a sea of blood. Soon she was unconscious, and turning a pallid grey.

It was immediately obvious even to my untrained eye that the situation was life-threateningly serious and the ambulance crew responded to my distress call within minutes. By then she was drifting in and out of consciousness and her blood pressure was dangerously low.

I could sense the medics' concern from the moment they saw her and I urged them to take her to the University College Hospital, where she was being treated for her disease.

The paramedic's tone was measured but clear. ''No, she's going straight to the Whittington. We don't have time.''

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We don't have time.

When I consider the proposals which would see the Whittingon's A&E unit close its doors forever, that phrase still haunts me. These were the words of a front line professional who wasn't thinking about organisational development, or co-ordination of resources, or statutory public consultations, or strategic reconfigurations or any of the jargon that jumps out at me from the pages of the North London Strategy Plan.

His sole concern was to save a life, and in the short time available, he was working out the best way to do it.

Thanks to her speedy arrival at the Whittington last February, Sue survived that traumatic and life-threatening crisis, just as she survived three more serious haemorrhages over the next few days while in the care of the Betty Mansell ward, before succumbing six months later in the serene surroundings of the Hampstead Hospice.

I'd happily pay the taxman more if it meant that places like the Whittington could be spared the ravages of the strategic experts, but not everyone can afford to pay more, and raising taxes for any reason is always politically sensitive.

Yet you have to wonder sometimes how our money is spent.

During one of my wife's previous stays at the Whittington, a glittering champagne reception was taking place to celebrate the opening of a vast and shining multi-million pound reception area, as gleamingly impressive as could be found in many a five-star hotel. I had an invite, but Sue was well enough to get out of her hospital bed and I wasn't going without her.

We never got there because the ward's single wheelchair had been purloined by another department and hadn't been replaced because money was tight. This telling cameo occured in a part of the hospital where so many women, young and old, aren't able to walk without pain for days or sometimes weeks on end, and when just down the hallway, the great and the good were gathered to celebrate the opening of a new entrance hall.

When my wife first fell ill, it was at the Whittington that she was diagnosed and then operated on within 72 hours. By any standards it was an impressive and caring response.

This level of urgency and expertise when the chips are down could of course be safely transferred to hospitals a few miles away, but in many accident and emergency situations, time measured in minutes rather than hours or days is crucial.

There is no doubt in my mind that being relatively close to the Whittington on that fateful Saturday gave my wife and I precious time together, time we might never have had.

And that's something I for one am not prepared to put a price on.