Bureaucratic plot foiled

The first ‘working group’ meeting on 9 July to consider the future of Finsbury Health Centre was pretty much a bunfight as reported in this week’s Tribune, although it’s hard to see how Islington Chief Exec John Foster and bureaucrats at NHS Islington (PCT) could have expected anything else. Despite two prior letters from us asking about the terms of reference for this group, these were not announced to anyone apart from the PCT until we got there.

It turned out that the one thing we were not ‘allowed’ to discuss was keeping health services at Finsbury Health Centre.  Apparently he and the PCT had decided to interpret the Secretary of State for Health’s admittedly vague letter as approval for the PCT’s basic plan, with all that’s left to discuss being to whom the PCT should sell the building!

Cllr Martin Klute (Lab), Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee, stood his ground on the original reason for referral – that there had not been a proper consultation about moving services out of FHC in the first place, and insisted that the Dept of Health decision sought a local resolution which considered all options, including the retention of services. “You can discuss keeping services in other places – but not here,’ was Foster’s rather high-handed reply. “The PCT have already made that decision, and I did not agree to convene this in order to talk about health services.” When asked with whom he had agreed this, it turned out to be Rachel Tyndall, Chief Exec of the PCT – which begs the question: is he working for the PCT or Islington Council?

Cllr Ursula Wooley (Lib Dem) said she for one didn’t feel she’d heard enough about the not-for-profit trust option we’d put forward. Cllr Janet Burgess (Lab) said she didn’t see how we could discuss other uses for the centre until it was settled whether health services would move.

The PCT (represented by Helena Pettersen, Simon Goodwin, and Chair Paula Kahn) tried to represent the discussion about keeping health services at FHC as being closed, with all options duly considered by the board and decided 29 January. They complained about how surprised they were by the referral, its expense (a lot less than a judicial review, surely!), and the story about physio appointments moving having appeared in the press.

We wondered, along with John Cooper Chair of Architects for Health and David Sulkin, newsletter editor for the Amwell Society why we had been asked there if it was not to open-mindedly discuss health service provision at Finsbury Health Centre. “It is like saying services have to move out of St Paul’s into more modern churches,” said Sulkin, “it needs proper consideration.” Cooper pointed out that if they were going to talk about health buildings being ‘not fit for purpose’, Goodinge St and Highbury Grange Health Centres were far less ‘fit’, and the £6,000 per square metre figure the PCT quoted for refurbishing FHC is “twice as much as the normal figure for health buildings which include operating theatres”.

Foster came back with, “Well, that’s the kind of thing you’d discuss at the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee, you can do it there.”

Barbara Heinzen from our campaign and Cllr. Klute blocked several attempts by Foster to move further down the agenda with points about the group’s remit. As the allotted hour rolled past Foster finally gave up. He announced that the working group would be suspended until the Health and Wellbeing Committee had decided whether health services can be moved out of FHC, and flounced off for a meeting with Islington’s Police Commissioner. Lucky guy – one can only hope Foster showed more respect to the police than he did the elected representatives who employ him.

Thank goodness – at least we’ll be able to get some rest over the summer! The next Health and Wellbeing Review Committee is on Thursday, 10 September, 7:30pm in Islington Town Hall. At least now the discussion will be in public and subject to the vote of elected representatives. Strike another blow for democracy, and write to your councillor now.

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