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Politicians are demanding assurances over the future of the Whittington Hospital’s A&E and maternity departments after its chairman admitted the trust was facing “significant financial challenges”.

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Labour councillor Bernice Vanier has written a strongly-worded letter to Whittington chairman Joe Liddane asking for “assurances over the future provision of services” at the Whittington, in Magdala Avenue, Archway.

Cllr Vanier wrote: “It is crucial that both the A&E and maternity departments continue as highly-regarded and much-valued local services.”

The government wants all NHS trusts to achieve self-governing “foundation trust” status by April 2014. But it has now emerged that Whittington Health – the trust responsible for the Whittington Hospital and community services in Islington and Haringey – has decided to postpone its application for foundation trust status, which was due to go in at the beginning of 2013, by another three months.

This was revealed in an email from Mr Liddane to staff and stakeholders, in which he wrote: “We are working in a difficult financial climate and have to ensure we have robust plans in place to demonstrate we are a financially sound organisation.”

Whittington Health needs to find £13.1million in savings throughout this financial year but, as of October, it was running behind, though only by around £800,000.

Although Mr Liddane added that “the postponement should have no significant impact on our overall path to foundation trust status”, and that “the delay is not a reflection of our progress to date”, the letter has raised concerns that Whittington Health may find it difficult to meet the deadline.

And Cllr Vanier is worried that if it misses the deadline, it could have to “team up” with an existing foundation trust – which could jeopardise the Whittington’s own services, such as its A&E.

Both Homerton University Hospital, Hackney and University College London Hospitals, Euston, are already foundation trusts.

Cllr Vanier, cabinet member for health at Haringey Council, said: “My fear is that if they team up with someone else, it wouldn’t be the status quo, which is what I want. I am looking for reassurances that things won’t change.”

In her letter to Mr Liddane, she added: “It would be helpful to know the date at which you envisage the whole application being approved and whether any further delay beyond three months could put successful transition by the April 2014 date at risk.

“With so many A&E units now set for closure across London, this would clearly raise questions about the future of local A&E provision at the Whittington.”

There are already plans to close a number of A&E departments across London, such as at Chase Farm Hospital, in Enfield.

In 2010, The Whittington itself fought off plans that could have seen its own A&E and maternity units closed.

Whittington Health chief executive Yi Mien Koh admitted to the Gazette that if “Whittington Health’s foundation trust application is unsuccessful as a stand-alone organisation, an alternative route to foundation trust status will be required”.

But Whittington Health also categorically denied that it is considering a merger with any other hospital, insisting that it is on course to meet the April 2014 deadline.

Dr Koh said: “The trust is only working on a stand-alone foundation trust application. Whittington Health as a stand-alone foundation trust is committed to continuing to provide maternity and A&E services.”

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