Whittington Hospital is ‘safe’, says top boss

Archway hospital’s chief executive rules out Royal Free merger

THE Whittington Hospital has finally ruled out a merger with the Royal Free or University College London hospitals.

It has instead pledged to maintain its independence as the local hospital for Islington and Haringey.

And in a bid to deal with the Government cuts coming its way, it is embarking on a different merger – one with the community healthcare teams currently serving Islington and Haringey.

This means that The Whittington in Magdala Avenue, Archway, will be the lynchpin of a new organisation – likely to be called Whittington Health – responsible for all hospital and community-based NHS care in the two boroughs.

Whittington chairman Joe Liddane said: “There will be a number of major benefits. We will be able to provide care closer to people’s homes. We will be able to get people back home much faster after hospital treatment. As a result, we will be able to reduce waste.”

It is hoped that the move will help avoid a repeat of the situation earlier this year, when health chiefs at the North Central London NHS proposed to scale down The Whittington and possibly axe its accident and emergency, maternity and intensive care units.

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The proposals were shelved when the coalition Government came into power in May.

But spending cuts still need to be made and GPs are now being asked by health secretary Andrew Lansley to come up with new – and cheaper – ways to organise the NHS.

Mr Liddane said: “In the past 10 years, the NHS has received an increase of funding of six to eight per cent a year. In the coming five years, we will probably get no extra money while population and healthcare costs increase.

“Combining these organisations together will contribute to making the efficiency savings we need to make.

“The Whittington spends about �180million a year, and community services currently spend about �90million a year, so we looking at saving four per cent of that.

“This will avoid very drastic plans being put to us. It keeps our destiny more in our own hands. The hospital was very worried by the plans that were put to us before.

“For as far ahead as we can see, we think our A&E, our maternity services, our intensive care unit will be safe.”

But hospital campaigners remain worried by the level of cuts.

Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of the Defend The Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “I am pleased The Whittington is not going to merge with the other hospitals. I am pleased they are focusing on Islington and Haringey. I am glad they are trying to make themselves more secure.

“But I am worried because there is less money to go around and I am worried that the new legislation that is coming through will make it more iffy for the future of local hospitals.”

The Whittington hopes that if it is more financially stable, it will also be easier for it to achieve foundation trust status, which it is required to do by 2014 - and which will give it greater autonomy over its budget and healthcare practices.

The hospital board is expected to give the final go-ahead to the creation of Whittington Health by the end of the year.