Invited to the table…but will there be any food?

The political situation seems to be changing by the week, nationally and as it relates to our fight to keep Finsbury Health Centre open, so it’s been difficult to know what to tell people. Alan Johnson is no longer with us as Health Secretary, replaced by Andy Burnham. As it turns out, this happened a couple of weeks or so after his letter which kicked the decision about FHC back locally. Then all change at Islington Council with Terry Stacey taking over from James Kempton as leader and a shuffle of committee members as Martin Klute took over from Paul Convery as chair of the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee.

On the working group

We’ve been asked to be part of the working group meant to discuss? decide? the fate of Finsbury Health Centre called together by John Foster, the new Chief Executive of Islington Council. As we complained early and often, this doesn’t include any representation from staff. Neither, curiously, has English Heritage been asked, which has a statutory interest and will also ultimately have to agree on any plan concerning the building.

While we’re at it someone from the PCT’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) should also be there. Or maybe someone from this new avenue for patient ‘input’ called Local Involvement Networks (LINks) set up in December by the Dept of Health. If, that is, these are not merely constructions to keep patients as far away as possible from any real decision making. The PCT at least has to publicly register complaints to PALS.

For those interested, here is the list as given: John Foster (Chair); Paula Kahn, Chair NHS Islington (PCT); Cllr Ursula Wooley, lead member for health and social care; Cllr Janet Burgess, Labour group representative; Representation from the 20th Century Society; Representation from the Save Finsbury Health Centre Campaign; Representation from Architects for Health; David Sulkin; Simon Goodwin – Director of Finance, Islington PCT; Tony Hoolaghan, Locality Director and Services Relocation Lead, Islington PCT; Patrick Odling Smee, Islington Council Housing Department; Kevin O’Leary, Corporate Director, Islington Council.

It’s a long list, and also odd for the two other Council officers named, whose interest in this issue is hard to see.

Slight stumble

Last night our petition was read to the full Council by Gary Doolan (Labour), who, rather than take the opportunity to emphasise the unity on this issue,  made a jibe about a ‘split’ within the Liberal Democrats. Doolan and the Labour Group were well-intentioned towards us no doubt, but his speech gave the impression that our campaign had told him about this split, which was untrue. It was rather embarrassing given the strong support we have had from some LibDems and the cross-party support we’ve built generally. We did agree to the petition going forward beforehand, but it was a lesson rather than a triumph.

Our campaign is about everybody’s health care, which we know would be helped by keeping the original public health building doing what it was designed to do and which we enjoy using. It is not inconsequential to one’s health to enjoy using a building, which many patients and staff report they do now in even in FHC’s current state. More would be able to enjoy using it if the building were refurbished and updated. Our campaign remains a cross-party issue: people of every political affiliation and none  attended our benefit last week, and that’s the way we intend to remain.

Meanwhile…

The PCT, after having been expressly told by the Health and Wellbeing Committee to not do anything about relocating services until there is a final decision, has been trying to shift as many patients as possible up to the Northern Health Centre for Physiotherapy. A story has been put out about ‘maternity leave’ but this is certainly the first time we’ve heard of cover not being provided on site. Various admin staff have been told that they will be moved (but not to where) in October. If you have been affected by any service changes away from Finsbury Health Centre then please complain to PALS and also let us know.

We are also working through the pile of evidence kindly sent by the Independent Relocation Panel (IRP), with particular interest in the PCT’s case for moving services. On first skim, it doesn’t amount to much we haven’t heard before, with most of their content amounting to minutes of meetings over the past year and the two hugely inflated refurbishment estimates we wrung out of them last winter. The only real new pieces are the patient and transport sections specified by the IRP, asking questions we have been asking for months. These are particularly poor, primarily some coloured maps supplied by the Council showing the population going up in the wards around Finsbury Health Centre, and a list of buses.

There was an interesting figure, however – it turns out that the ‘£1.5 million a year’ the PCT claimed to spend maintaining the building, and roundly lampooned by Ivor Kenna at our November meeting last year, is actually a £1.68 million backlog in basic maintenance.

Given that nearly all the other documents were already written, one wonders why gathering this evidence took up so much time the that PCT couldn’t possibly meet us about the option we were putting forward before submitting it. Actually it seems they have been busy scheming to close Finsbury Health Centre by stealth.

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