Coalition: ‘We’ll fight NHS sell-off on streets’
Fury at hospital deal with ‘Grenfell Tower firm’
19 January, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Whittington campaigners at Islington Town Hall
WHITTINGTON campaigners warned hospital chiefs they will see them in the boardroom and on the streets if they refuse to scrap a deal with a private firm.
Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, told a packed public meeting at Islington Town Hall on Thursday night they would not back down from their demands.
The board at the Highgate hospital triggered the dispute when they confirmed that Ryhurst, a subsidiary of Rydon, the lead Grenfell Tower contractor, as a “partner” working on redeveloping public land around the Whittington.
Ms Franklin said: “We’re not going to give up, we’re going to up the ante – we’re not going to let this go. You will be seeing us in the board meetings and on the streets.”
The potential for demonstrations follows victories for the coalition in 2010 and 2013 when they organised a successful defence against major cuts and land sales at the hospital proposed by NHS bosses.
The Ryhurst deal is yet to be officially rubber-stamped by the NHS Improvement quango and campaigners are hoping to have similar success overturning the latest scheme.
Two other NHS hospital trusts, in the north of England, have recently cancelled similar “strategic estate partnership” (SEP) deals with Ryhurst following the Grenfell fire, which is now the subject of a public inquiry into what went wrong.
The Whittington SEP would see Ryhurst, which is based at the same address as its parent company Rydon, mastermind and potentially profit from developments of the Whittington estate on a “project by project basis”.
Catherine West, the Hornsey & Wood Green MP, said she and Islington MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry had met the board last month, adding: “There are a number of question marks, particularly on the complexity of the proposals. The more complex a project is the more compromises have to be made. We are also worried about the ambition. There are so many sites involved.”
The Whittington board pleaded with those at the meeting for unity and asked for the campaigners not to block what they say is a crucial modernisation of health care buildings. Chief executive Siobhan Harrington said they had to contract a developer because they did not have the “expertise” on the board to take forward major development projects. But coalition member Jem Lydon told her: “There seems to be no recognition about why we are here. It’s Rydon. Why Rydon?”
The board claim a sequence of events unfolded in which it agreed to select Ryhurst for the contract three days before the Grenfell disaster in June last year. After the fire, it “paused” the process and asked for legal advice about whether it was locked into the deal. The board say the advice they got back was that scrapping the talks would lead to an expensive legal battle and jeopardise a project the board had been working on for two years. Rydon reject any wrongdoing over Grenfell and insist they met all building works guidelines and regulations. In October, the Whittington officially announced Ryhurst as their provider.
Ms Harrington told the meeting: “There was a legal process, we scored the bids of the providers involved. It’s called a competitive dialogue process. Ryhurst was the right choice.”
A vote at the end of the meeting to “sack Rydon and get them out of our hospital” was unanimously carried. Sue Richards, national chairwoman of Keep Our NHS Public, who lives in Islington, said the current NHS crisis could “bring down the government” and asked people to join a national demonstration and march on February 3.
Ryhurst, or its parent company Rydon, were not given a platform at the meeting. They have not commented on the Whittington deal and media enquiries have been handled by the hospital.