Finsbury Health Centre patients: Keep our Health Centre open!

NHS Islington’s (PCT) case for moving services out of Finsbury Health Centre crumbles apace. When members of Islington Council’s Health and Wellbeing Review Committee visited Finsbury Health Centre on 23 Sept, they were met by about 30 patients, young and old, of various community services there. They were all, in the words of Chair Martin Klute, ‘vehement in their affection’ for the building, describing it as ‘our health centre’ which should be refurbished and kept open. The Committee also had a tour lead by the PCT’s Locality Director Tony Hoolaghan, and a meeting with healthcare staff. The staff was reported to have a variety of views about staying in FHC, with both GP practices wanting it to be kept open.

Speaking to the Health and Well-being Review Committee 24 September, Louise Reid, Head of Planning Management for Islington Council, backed up the testimony of John Allan on the 15th and Alec Forshaw (former Head of Conservation) on 17th of September on all points. Finsbury Health Centre’s use is integral its Grade 1 listed status and the listing recognises the building’s inherent flexibility. A lift was allowed in the 1990s and there would be little trouble getting planning consent for another one, as long as it isn’t in the front of the building.

She also said both Islington Council and English Heritage would be ‘unlikely’ to approve the demolition of the 1929 Mother and Baby Clinic next door in Pine Street if it wasn’t part of an overall scheme to keep FHC as a health centre. This building, while not itself listed, is in a conservation area, is in good condition and itself has an important place in the history of both public healthcare and Finsbury. The PCT bought this building from Islington Council last autumn, and has plans to demolish it to make way for a new building to house the GPs in FHC. Apparently no formal discussions have taken place with the Council’s Planning Department about this, there were ‘some dealings’ about it last summer when they were advised of this position. This also backs a key point made by Dorian Crone of English Heritage at our November 2008 meeting. This would put a huge hole in the PCT’s plans to leave FHC – a new GP building on the Pine St site has been promised ‘within two years’ to take the practices within FHC. It looks like they assumed too much.

A healthcare use for St Luke’s Community Centre, new or old, has also not been discussed with Planning, and Reid said in terms of a new centre being built they’d seen no plans for one. The PCT has lined up six of FHC’s community services to go to St Luke’s in the wake of our campaign.

Martin Klute also reported that he had been told by Sarah Price of the PCT that they want to have less obligation to report their activities to the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee. They want to do it through something called ‘Vital Signs’ which presumably they would have more control over. The FHC issue has shown up how undemocratic the governance of the PCT already is – it would be catastrophic to not allow at least a review of their decisions by democratically elected councillors.

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