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LYNNE FEATHERSTONE: Loss of A&E unit would be a bad break

PUBLISHED: 10:29 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

The world works in mysterious ways. If I hadn t broken a bone in my foot a couple of weeks ago I might not have heard what was being planned for the future of the Whittington Hospital in such a timely fashion. The position put out by Rachel Tyndall (CEO

The world works in mysterious ways. If I hadn't broken a bone in my foot a couple of weeks ago I might not have heard what was being planned for the future of the Whittington Hospital in such a timely fashion.

The position put out by Rachel Tyndall (CEO for North London Central NHS) in a letter to senior NHS managers was that the Whittington would lose its Accident & Emergency services.

But after the letter was publicised, the situation abruptly changed. A revised letter was sent out in which options for the future of the Whittington designate it a 'local hospital'. That is a very comforting sounding phrase - but it would still mean an end to 24-hour Accident &Emergency cover.

The rapidity with which the original proposals to end all A&E were dropped does make me doubt how well thought out they were - and also whether they have really been abandoned fully or are still lurking, waiting for a chance to come back.

So I have sent out emails and letters to inform local people what was going on, with the background on the threats to close or reduce the A&E services at the Whittington. You can sign the petition yourself at http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/saveouraande

The responses are pouring in at a volume I have actually never seen before, with over 1,000 signatures in the first 48 hours. It is already quite clear that local people don't want to lose their local A&E nor see it reduced - nor do they feel the NHS has been communicating well or fully on the subject.

In the background to all this are talks about merging the Royal Free and The Whittington - either completely, or some of the services. The principle of raising the quality of health services by providing them via the best means available is a good one - and it may be that some services are best provided through only one or the other of these two hospitals. But A&E is one of the services that needs to be local and 24 hours - that's the point.

As one constituent wrote to me, who works elsewhere in the NHS themselves, said of the Whittington, it "exists to provide a local and emergency service and is at risk of having its lifeblood sucked away".

I have held meetings in the last week with the key people at both the London North Central Review Panel and the Whittington. Whilst all the NHS senior people are saying no decisions have been made, that original letter with its set of proposals - all of which meant closing the Whittington's A&E - makes it clear which way thoughts are running on the issue.

Although there are promises to bring the issue to public consultation, consultation has to be over a meaningful range of options - not a set that already assumes a key decision.

With the consultation pencilled in for September 2010 - after the next elections, please note - there is a whiff in the air of putting controversial decisions off until after the votes, with the ability to then push them through with the public voice neutered.

That is why it is so important that local peoples' views are heard loud and clear now. Otherwise when the Health Authority 'options' finally come to public consultation, we may find that there are no options that keep the Whittington's Accident & Emergency service open.

q Lynne Featherstone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green


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