Last Monday Berthold Lubetkin’s daughter Sasha travelled from Bristol to make an impassioned plea for the retention and refurbishment of Finsbury Health Centre to the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee.
“Finsbury Health Centre was the very best that my father could make it. He designed it with love and with the most meticulous attention to every tiny detail, making sure that it would not only serve the public of the day, but could be re-configured to meet medical needs of the future, needs not yet dreamt of in the 1930s.”
Of all the buildings Lubetkin designed, she said, Finsbury Health Centre was his favourite, since it was the “the most complete expression of his profound conviction that architecture should serve the people, and that it should perform the role of improving people’s lives.”
She also read out parts of a letter written by an FHC patient in 1990, a few months before the architect died, which thankful that there is such a beautiful and useful building in the heart of her community. “The whole set-up was the most tremendous tribute to a caring Council,” the letter said. “I truly hope, disillusioned as Mr Lubetkin finally became, he at least knows the wonderful uplift, the feeling of pride and the knowledge that at least someone in authority cared for those who through no fault of their own on low incomes living in Council flats were able to take advantage of these truly excellent medical and social services offered to them.” Sasha concluded,
“The chances that Islington PCT could commission a new building as timelessly beautiful, as greatly loved by its users, as much admired all the world over and as flexible or as fit for its purpose as Finsbury Health Centre must be vanishingly small. I beg you to consider what you would be losing if you gave up that building.”
Members of the Health and Wellbeing committee approved the key findings, with the proviso that the case for patient need of the services where they are and in one place be strengthened. Cllr. James Kempton worried that there was too much emphasis on the building and costs, and that the findings “all but accept the PCT’s service case by default.” Vice-Chair Meral Ece felt that there was not enough emphasis on the convenience of having primary care services all under one roof. More than 40% of FHC patients use more than one service there, and many of these are elderly. “The added transport costs in particular need more detail, since this is something the PCT did not really deal with,” she said.
Chair Martin Klute defended the cost emphasis on the grounds that this was the fundamental reason the PCT gave for closing the building, but accepted that the findings do need more work to bring out the patient need case, which he said does appear in more detail in the full report. Over 20 SaveFHC supporters were there, and architects John Cooper and John Allan said they hope to provide further evidence of the scope the building provides for adaptation and the accommodation of modern health services. The committee will vote on whether to send the issue back to the Department of Health at their next meeting Monday 1 March.
No one from NHS Islington (PCT) was present at the meeting to defend their position.
The a rep from Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition was also spoke to the meeting about the situation there, and how important the A&E is to the local community. Cllr Klute announced that the Chairs of five HWB scrutiny committees are getting together to form a joint overview committee for the shadowy ‘North Central London’ quadrant/sector/consultative board which is making decisions about the Whittington. It is headed by Islington PCT Chief Exc Rachel Tyndall, who so far has refused to meet with them.
There will also be an open meeting at the BMA headquarters on 25 February to discuss John Lister’s report London on the Brink – what is happening to local Health Services? Further information is on the Keep Our NHS Public website, places need to be reserved in advance.
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