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‘Secret plan’ to axe Whittington Hospital’s emergency department

Is it round three in the fight to save the Whittington's A&E?

12 November, 2016 — By Koos Couvée

The Islington Tribune twice helped save the A&E department at the Whittington with award-winning campaigns

FEARS have been raised that “secret plans” are being drawn up to axe the Whittington Hospital’s emergency department – six years after a massive people-power campaign saved it from closure.

Senior executives from health bodies, hospitals and councils in five north London boroughs have for months been mapping out a controversial five-year plan behind closed doors.

Health campaigners fear the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), will remove £22billion a year – about 20 per cent – from the national NHS budget.

The secret study into what health and social care services will be funded in the future in Islington, Camden, Haringey, Enfield and Barnet area, was leaked by Islington Council last week, revealing planned cuts of £900m.

In other areas, the plans have included ­closures of hospital emergency and maternity units, though Whittington chiefs have strongly denied there are plans to close or downgrade the emergency unit.

Islington Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) is set to hold a public meeting at the Town Hall on Tuesday to raise awareness of the plans.

“We want to wake people up to what’s ­happening,” Professor Sue Richards, KONP co-chairwoman, said. “It’s a big thing.”

The Islington Tribune and Camden New Journal battle bus which led the march in 2010 to save Whittington A&E department

She added: “The plans were published by the local authorities but they’re lacking all the basic information. They’re grand ideas which are hard to disagree with. It’s being done on the sly, keeping the public out.

“But in it there’s a ­pretence good services can be achieved without money. There’s a section about ­‘consolidation of services’ and it hints at fewer, bigger [hospital] sites.

“There’s a real fear that another proposal to downgrade A&E could be on its way. Or the maternity department; they’re the most common departments to downgrade. It’s so tempting because of the valuable land and all its assets.”

The STPs are a national scheme where 44 regional bodies have been created across the country. Health, mental health and social services chiefs in these “footprints” have come together to find ways of doing more for less and showing how funding will be spent over the next five years.

According to the Department for Health, “the most compelling and credible STPs will secure funding from April 2017 onwards”.

In north central London the STP is headed-up by chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital, David Sloman. It has said it is trying to plug a projected £876million black hole in finances by 2021.

The report says it aims to save £124m by investing in “care closer to home”.

The draft STP report is dense with NHS management terms but it admits

“we face some really tough decisions” and “we need to resolve these questions between now and ­Christmas”.

It talks about moving more care into the ­community, which is far cheaper than allowing patients time to recover in hospital beds, as the report repeatedly makes clear.

It suggests £6m could be saved by improving mental health outreach and another £98m could be saved by “increasing system ­productivity”.

Thousands marched against plans to shut down the casualty department of the Archway hospital, and top-level politicians forced NHS bosses into a U-turn in May 2010, as a result of the campaign championed by the Tribune.

In recent years, the A&E unit at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, which is part of the same “footprint” area as the Whittington, was closed.

And the emergency unit at North Middlesex University Hospital in Edmonton has been under huge pressure. In June, its A&E unit was threatened with closure on safety grounds after revelations that four patients died after errors by staff.

Whittington Hospital boss Steve Hitchins will speak at Tuesday’s meeting alongside Dr Josephine Sauvage, ­chairwoman of the Islington Clinical Commissioning Group, but campaigners have questioned how much detail they will be able to disclose at this stage.

Health campaigners Dr Jacky Davis, Dot Gibson, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, and Professor Richards, will also speak.

A Whittington spokeswoman said: “There are no plans to close or downgrade the A&E department. More and more people attend [A&E] and numbers have risen from 240 a day to 340 a day in the past year. We are busy recruiting more ­consultants. At the same time we are treating more patients in their own home through improved ­community services.”

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 7.30pm.

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