Whittington Hospital and STP: Thornberry, Corbyn and health chiefs face questions on ‘keeping NHS public’ at town hall
- Credit: Archant
Prevent long-term illness to reduce pressure on the Whittington Hospital? Sounds great. It comes with a catch, though, and no one is sure how the plans will play out. James Morris tries to see through the ‘smoke and mirrors’.
Whittington Hospital has an uncertain future – and Islington is on red alert.
A hundred people packed out the town hall council chamber last night for an emergency meeting on the future of the hospital and other health services in Islington.
The meeting was called by the Islington Keep Our NHS Public group in the wake of the government’s Sustainability and Tranformation Plan (STP).
Health services in the “north central London” boroughs – Islington, Haringey, Camden, Enfield and Barnet – have a deficit of £900million.
Under the STP, those services, including the Whittington Health Trust, will be expected to make combined savings of about £825m.
How? The STP proposes measures such as increasing emphasis on preventing illness and shifting care closer to home to reduce demand on hospitals.
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Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry said she couldn’t argue with the principle.
But she added: “There’s an awful lot of smoke and mirrors here, guys.
“I’m not saying anything is wrong with the plan. You can’t argue with a strategy to prevent long-term health conditions, for example.
“If we take all these steps to integrate services, it should reduce waste. But let’s just hope so. Even with this optimistic forecast, there’s still a £75m gap.”
She warned: “People march when A&E departments shut. People march against hospital closures. People don’t march when service budgets are cut. The problem is, we have a government that doesn’t put enough money into health. If this goes wrong, and when you get angry, don’t forget whose fault it is.”
Her colleague, Islington North MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, warned against privatisation of the NHS.
To rapturous applause, Mr Corbyn referred to Virgin Health’s £700m contract to roll out community healthcare in Bath and north east Somerset. “Goodness knows where this ends,” he said.
“If we go down a road of cuts, closures and selling off land, where does it all end? Can’t we be proud of an NHS by the public, for the public? I rest my case.”
Prof Sue Richards, of Islington Keep Our NHS Public, told the Gazette before the meeting: “We called this because we want to alert people to plans which could take huge amounts of money out of health services in Islington. We believe any plans to under-fund the NHS are utterly unrealistic.
“It has a knock-on consequence for older people because they are living longer. Cuts since 2010 have targeted staff but they have now reached the limit – they can’t cut staff any further. So we are now worried it will come out of services.
“The STP has good ideas, that probably all of us are in favour of. But we believe it could be based on the premise of achieving the same outcomes with a lot less money.”
With the STP in progress until Christmas, Prof Richards urged: “We are saying to people: write to Theresa May and tell her it’s not acceptable to cut our NHS. Write to your councillor. It’s important local authorities don’t support this.”
Though the STP has thrown up more questions than answers, a Whittington Health boss was able to rubbish reports in some media that the hospital’s A&E department is under threat of closure.
Dr Richard Jennings, the trust’s medical director, guaranteed: “There are no plans to close the A&E department. We would not be engaged with the STP if that was the case, and if its only purpose was to make cuts without improving services.”
He added: “We believe there’s an opportunity to do some good.”
For more information, see islingtonkeepournhspublic.org