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Sell-offs at Whittington Hospital will spark new protests, board warned

Exclusive: Campaigners alarmed by link with private firm to redevelop land

20 October, 2017 — By Tom Foot

March in 2013 against planned cuts at Whittington Hospital

CAMPAIGNERS who fought sell-offs at the Whittington Hospital have swung back into action after its board announced plans to set up a new company with private contractors to work on redeveloping its site in Archway.

The hospital is to go into business with Ryhurst – a subsidiary of Rydon – to oversee and potentially profit from moves to overhaul land and buildings, community clinics and nursing home blocks.

The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition – which fought two successful campaigns to block cuts at the hospital in 2010 and 2013, alongside the Tribune – warned that Whittington’s directors should expect a new round of protests and demonstrations if the deal was not abandoned.

The campaign group’s chairwoman, Shirley Franklin, said: “This decision was taken without any community consultation, despite our request to be involved. It’s disappointing because we thought things were on the relatively straight and narrow with the hospital now.”

New chief executive Siobhan Harrington

Staff sources have contacted the Tribune this week warning of discontent inside the hospital over the board decision to choose a company connected to Rydon, which worked on Grenfell Tower.

“You have this rich board that are totally disconnected from the frontline,” said one insider. “The staff are too scared to speak out. It is all so secretive. It is being decided in closed-off meetings.”

Rydon has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing over its work on the tower in Kensington and completely rejects claims it was at fault for the fatal blaze.

It says that the new company at the Whittington – called a Strategic Estates Partnership (SEP) – aims to “generate income from surplus property” on the hospital estate and use it to do up old buildings.

But Ms Franklin said: “We have concerns regarding the sell-off proposals. We would like to see a state-of-the art hospital and health provision in our area, but we do not concur with any sell-off of NHS land. We do not support any proposal resulting in loss of jobs or health provision.”

The Whittington board agreed in February to set up the SEP, which was publicly backed by the then chief executive Simon Pleydell. At the time he insisted that he would see the project through to its completion, but in June announced his retirement.

Siobhan Harrington, a long-serving senior member of the hospital board, was named as the new chief executive last month.

Campaigner Shirley Franklin: ‘Concerns’

Although Whittington publicly announced Ryhurst as its “preferred bidder” on Tuesday, a shell company, Whittington SEP LLP, has already been set up at Companies House. It is based at Rydon’s headquarters in east Sussex.

According to its website, Ryhurst has set up three similar SEPs with NHS trusts – in Cheshire, Lancashire and the Isle of Wight – with the same “50:50 ownership structure”. It says this means “risk and reward” are shared equally between the company and the NHS trust on every development project.

The SEP will “remove the burden of managing the estate, facilities management and major and minor capital projects delivery” from the hospital’s boardroom, it adds.

The Whittington maintains the SEP will help it develop its estate, bringing more “modern community health facilities” for patients. There is also a “potential to provide key-worker housing that will help us to attract nurses, doctors and other clinical staff to work for us”, a statement said.

It added that a new “community forum” had been set up and patients are being invited to get involved with the changes.

Rydon, speaking on behalf of Ryhurst, said it would not comment further than the Whittington statement.

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