NHS and Council chiefs speaking 10 Dec

Rachel Tyndall, Chief Exec of NHS Islington (PCT) and now also Chief Exec of the new ‘North and Central London Quadrant’ conglomeration of primary care trusts across London, and John Foster, Chief Exec of Islington Council, will be questioned by the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee on Thursday 10 Dec, 7.30pm at Islington Town Hall. Tyndall is said to still be firmly set to abandon Finsbury Health Centre in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s needed by patients and refurbishable for half the amount claimed. Councillors are also very unhappy about plans to close Whittington’s A&E department, revealed in a letter by Tyndall leaked to the Camden New Journal, and recently the subject of an adjournment debate in the House of Commons. Should be a lively evening!

Camden and Islington Community Solutions, the LIFT company formed to deal with capital projects for the NHS here, will also be speaking at 5pm in room RO4 the same day. They were responsible for costing the refurbishment of Finsbury Health Centre at £9.8 million last year, a figure strongly disputed by a range of health building and conservation experts.

In another development, the Labour Group on Islington Council put forward a motion in favour of refurbishing Finsbury Health Centre as a healthcare building to the full council last Thursday 3 Dec. It passed 25-22 (abstentions by the Lib Dems, who also tried putting forward an amendment saying the building should just be kept for ‘public enjoyment’). A copy of the motion is here, in the pdf file available on the page. While there is little to argue with in the text, the timing is odd. The Health and Wellbeing Review Committee’s findings aren’t out yet, much less officially accepted. SaveFHC weren’t told anything about the motion until the evening before – by the Lib Dems, not Labour. We’ll see what happens.

Among other things the motion repeated Emily Thornberry’s call on the EC1 New Deal board to use £2.4 million it has in legacy funding on Finsbury Health Centre, which appeared in the Islington Tribune last month. The board is sympathetic to the idea, but they’ll need a worked-up project by February 2010 in order to put it forward for approval by Central Government. The question here, however, is why the PCT, who are official partners with EC1ND, did not ask them last year when they claim they ‘really tried hard’ to find outside funding. In fact since presenting plans to refurbish the building in 2003, PCT representatives never mentioned Finsbury Health Centre to EC1ND until announcing the plans for closure last year.

Late November, just as the Whittington closure plans were being revealed, Cllr. Martin Klute wrote to the Trib attacking the quango-isation of local services and the Lib Dems’ enthusiasm for outsourcing and the muddling of responsibility that brings. SaveFHC responded the next week, largely agreeing. We did have to point out, however, that the Lib Dems have only been treading a path laid first by the Tories and carried on with a vengeance by the Labour government. While Cllr. Klute’s efforts to investigate the facts about FHC, and open his committee up to the public are warmly appreciated, the policy of farming out local services to quanqos and private firms has not been opposed locally by either party.

Politicians from both parties in Camden, Islington and Haringey are falling over themselves to oppose the Whittington A&E closure. Quite right too, and we hope they’ll also get to grips with the structural changes in the NHS which led up to this situation. The merger plans with the Royal Free would halve the number of hospital patients able to be seen in this part of North London altogether, and force 80,000 A&E patients a year to go around the Heath, down to Euston or over to Homerton for treatment.

The £900 million this is supposed to help save, however, seems paltry when you start counting it in bankers’ bonuses!

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