After months of keeping her head in the sand, last Thursday morning Chair Paula Kahn announced at the Executive Board meeting of NHS Islington that the other board members would be given a chance to discuss the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee report on Finsbury Health Centre at an extraordinary Board meeting. They will then revisit their decision to close the building at their next scheduled meeting 27 May.
The announcement came after several days wrangling behind the scenes between an enterprising SaveFHC supporter, Cllrs Martin Klute and Ursula Wooley, Paula Kahn and Chief Exec Rachel Tyndall. Tyndall was against the Board having any more discussion about FHC whatsoever, but cooler heads prevailed. The plan was agreed by the HWB Committee Monday night (29 March), although it is still unclear when and how public the initial discussion will be.
This development brings a more local set of uncertainties with the election coming up. In the end however it seemed better that the Board have some kind of public discussion of the issue, with the possibility this holds of coming to a local agreement, rather than depending on the right decision being handed down from on high. Also as of April 1 Tyndall will no longer have direct responsibility for it, and her replacement Helen Pettersen may prove more rational on the subject. One way or another a Polyclinic (or ‘polysystem’ as Tyndall insists on calling it) is to be established in the south of Islington anyway, and Finsbury Health Centre is the only logical place for it.
Tyndall is due to be seconded to the secretive North Central London Sector Trust as of this April 1st, to deal full-time with the more pressing matter of cutting up the hospitals. Judging from her performance at Monday’s presentation at the HWB Committee about the proposals for the Whittington, there is the same use of irrelevant statistics and obfuscation about what is actually planned as accompanied the PCT’s original case to close Finsbury Health Centre.
As Tyndall herself put it in her valedictory speech to the PCT Board last Thursday, the HWB “unanimously decided to take a different view of the world” with their recommendation that Finsbury Health Centre be refurbished and kept as an NHS health centre. Hopefully the board will feel freer to join the rest of us once Tyndall’s lens isn’t distorting their view.
The same Thursday evening there was a third resolution by the full Council to support the recommendations of the HWB report, proposed this time by the Lib Dems. This was nodded through without discussion at the end of the last full Council meeting. It was rather a relief not to have to hear the parties taking pre-election pot shots at each other over FHC as they had over everything else during the previous three hours.
With the elections for both the Council and Parliament coming up, now is the time to get all candidates to commit to carrying through with the recent HWB recommendations and Council resolutions, including referral to the Secretary of State if the PCT Board doesn’t change its mind. Finsbury Health Centre has been conspicuous by its absence from any party political literature so far, and we need to change that.
After eighteen months not badgering the relevant ministers who could have ended this at a stroke, Labour MP Emily Thornberry also missed a golden opportunity to mention Finsbury Health Centre in the House of Commons during the debate on the 9th of March on the proposals for Healthcare for London. She chose instead to jump exclusively on the Whittington bandwagon, despite the context of the debate: the unaccountability of the various Trusts which run the NHS, a fundamental issue we have raised from the beginning. Her support for the Michael Palin Stammering Centre, trumpeted in her latest leaflet, didn’t even mention that it is housed in the Finsbury Health Centre. The Lib Dems candidates have equally left any commitment to keeping FHC open off their campaign literature so far, even at the local ward level. None of the other parties have come out one way or another.
There will be a good chance to get this commitment from all parties at a hustings organised by the Federation of Islington Tenants Associations at Islington Town Hall, Tuesday 13 April, 7pm. All the local party leaders will be there, as well as most of the parliamentary candidates. We can all also make sure that it is an issue on our doorsteps.
We had a good little picket at the headquarters of NHS Islington (PCT) Thursday morning, with 13 people – thanks for all who showed up, and the good wishes from those who couldn’t. Chair Paula Kahn announced afterwards that the polyclinic discussion would be heard in public, and that in fact no part of the meeting would be closed. The earlier quote from the agenda is apparently just an obscure codicil which gives them the option of throwing the public and press out at any point. Nothing like transparency.
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