Finsbury Health Centre on a trolley; pre-election round-up

Louis Hellman, 2000. Recently republished in the Architects Journal, April 2010

One thing this campaign has never lacked is visual material. The shape of Finsbury Health Centre lends itself to bold, graphic imagery; it’s almost as though Lubetkin designed it to appear in propaganda. The most famous use was Abram Game’s 1943 banned recruitment poster, and now this has come up from Louis Hellman at the Architects Journal. It was originally published in 2000, after the NHS abandoned John Allan’s refurbishment mid-way. Now the building could easily stand for the whole NHS.

The candidates’ records

We have had sincere and passionate supporters for refurbishing and keeping Finsbury Health Centre open who are affiliated to all parties and none. This holds for the politicians as well, although individuals have varied considerably.

Parliamentary: Sitting MP Emily Thornberry (Labour) sent a strong statement of support to our first meeting in November 2008. Later she wrote a four-page letter to then Health Secretary Alan Johnson which neglected to mention the popular support for keeping FHC open, although she did show up to help give our petition in at the Dept of Health in Jan 2009. After telling a SaveFHC supporter this past February ‘That nothing will happen until the election” in terms of meeting Health Secretary Andy Burnham about FHC, she did exactly that about the Whittington A&E, and last week extracted a promise from him to not make changes there without ‘clinical evidence’.

Bridget Fox (Lib Dem) flagged up the impending sale on her blog in 2008 before most realised it was happening, but didn’t oppose moving services out until after our campaign gathered steam. During the election she arranged a meeting between SaveFHC and LibDem Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb, who has called for changes to make NHS governance more locally accountable.

It has been a struggle to get Finsbury Health Centre even mentioned as a local issue on the constituency literature for both these parties.

James Humphreys (Green) and Antonia Cox (Conservative) both have made the right noises during the election, but it is impossible to tell what they would actually do. Andrew Lansley, Conservative health spokesperson, has recently come out to oppose the closure of Whittington A&E, although on the radio the other day he was making a rather disturbing comparison between running the NHS and selling coffee.

Council: Sitting Lib Dem Cllr Marisha Ray (Clerkenwell) and the late Donna Boffa (Bunhill) came out with strong speeches in February last year, when the Health and Wellbeing Committee first referred the sale decision to the Secretary of State, and strongly supported all moves to keep FHC open since then. George Allan (Clerkenwell), who attended but didn’t speak at our first meeting or ever after for that matter, finally put a supporting motion to the last full Council meeting in March this year. Tracey Ismail (St Georges) strongly supported the referral, and went to many of the FHC evidence sessions over the past year. Ursula Wooley (Junction), as Executive member for Health and with a co-opted seat on the PCT board, has been quietly supportive both at the Council and in the PCT.

On the Labour side, sitting Cllr Martin Klute (St Peter’s) has of course been the star of the show for almost the past year, since he became Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Committee last May. After staunchly defending the grounds for referral last summer, he has gone on to lead what another councillor said was ‘the most thorough’ committee investigation she’d seen into the PCT’s arguments for sale and the evidence against them. Paul Convery (Caledonian) sent a strong statement of support to our first meeting and lead the move to refer the PCT’s decision in Feb 2009. Both Gary Doolan (St Peter’s), and Janet Burgess (Junction), have either moved or seconded motions to full Council in support of keeping FHC open. Burgess in particular, as Labour whip, has been instrumental in keeping FHC on the Council agenda.

Among other candidates in Clerkenwell, only Helen Cagnoni (Independent), who helped start SaveFHC, has anything like a track record in the community. She has been a tenants, and now leaseholders, representative for several decades on many local committees including the Area Housing Panel and the now defunct Neighbourhood Forum. During the election Pauline Tucker (Conservative) at least got in touch to say she supports keeping FHC open. The rest of the candidates are complete ciphers.

So you cast your vote and take your chances. However the election turns out, it is certain that afterwards we’ll have to keep up the pressure on politicians in all parties to get FHC safely off that trolley.


6 Responses

  1. Great cartoon, the only thing missing are the bodies that lay beneath the health centre building as this whole section of the Spa Park was a plague burial ground as well as the local Mortuary Building that was demolished to build the original Finsbury Health Centre. Historical information on Clerkenwell and its legendary inhabitants and visitors is fascinating and it is still a great place to live.

    Helen Cagnoni

  2. If the owners of historic buildings refuse to take responsibility for their preservation, who will ? Half of historic London could be destroyed at a terrible social loss.
    Whatever the function of the owner organisation, it has a responsibility for looking after and preserving its home, most especially when this is admirable architecturally, locally popular, and serving local people. The Finsbury Health Centre is all of these.

    NHS Islington cannot therefore plan to sell it off. Furthermore, its neglect to maintain the FHC accounts for the amount of maintenance it needs now.

  3. Any news on when the dedicated meeting between the PCT board and members of the council’s health scrutiny committee to discuss the latter’s report is to take place? That such a meeting was agreed should be in the minutes of the last meeting.

  4. Thanks for a very fair summary – support for the Finsbury Health Centre goes across party lines, reflecting how important it is for the community. We need to keep this going after the election.

    As to what we would do if elected, locally or nationally, I can add that the Greens want to make the NHS open and accountable to the community once again; and we would never support the closure of the FHC.

  5. A very good cartoon which highlights the blinkered thinking that currently blights decisions about retention or redevelopment which never carry out a full cost benefit exercise. The comment from Helen Cagnoni raises an interesting spectre, or body or two, that if a developer wanted to comprehensively redevop the site, the archaeological interest might be such that it would severely reduce any residual land value. I seem to recall the development of the old school playground site at the end of Bowling Green Lane took about 18 months to get out of the ground. Better to leave who or what’s there undisturbed for future reference.

  6. Brilliant cartoon ! Let’s hope the Save FHC campaign will inspire Louis Hellman to produce another cartoon – perhaps one that gives Finsbury Health Centre a clean bill of health !

    The Save FHC campaign has also alerted local people to current, 21st century ‘polyclinic’ plans – which, sadly and alarmingly, seems to be about the centralisation of various local healthcare services – but removes the ‘local’ bit ! Something to be vigilant and questioning about when we put our x on ballot papers tomorrow.

    Thought your round up of local councillors’ record about the future of FHC was most helpful.


    Sue Egan

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