Another month to go…

The Health and Wellbeing Review Committee voted last night to delay referral another month (next meeting October 12) to gather more information about the availability of funds and the viability of refurbishment via a not-for-profit trust. Cllr Martin Klute felt that the PCT’s refusal to engage with any alternative to the funding model they’ve been using exposed a weakness in the Council’s evidence and that more time is needed to explore what real possibilities there might be for both grant funding and the formation of a community trust to oversee refurbishment.

Councillors on the whole were of the opinion that the situation has already changed dramatically since the initial referral, and that it is a victory that FHC is still open, with the PCT having little option but to use it. Klute said that in a recent private meeting with the Executive and Non-Executive heads of the PCT, they still wanted to build a new health centre in the south of Islington, with an estimated the cost of about £9 million. They admitted however that this is not really an option in the current funding climate. Klute felt that given FHC’s national significance and international reputation, that outside funding shouldn’t be too difficult to source, particularly if handled by a not-for-profit trust, but he wanted to pin this down to strengthen the case for refurbishment before going to the Secretary of State.

Cllr Paul Convery, former chair of HWB and now Planning Executive in the Council, said that in combination with the Pine Street Centre this could be viewed more as a regeneration project. While initially he supported immediate referral with other options to be explored ‘in tandem’, by the end of the meeting he said he agreed with Klute.

Dr Richard Sykes, chair of the not-for-profit trust which successfully refurbished the De la War Pavillion in Bexhill from 2002-8, spoke about their experience and the possibly useful parallels with Finsbury Health Centre. He said that grant funding from places like the Heritage Lottery Fund was much more likely if the building was kept for the use it was intended, and that a not-for-profit trust could more easily win these funds than a statutory body. Their trust had worked closely with the local council once the idea of selling the De la War to a pub chain was overcome by local campaigners, and he felt a similar relationship could contribute to the successful refurbishment of FHC.

SaveFHC argued that the broad financial and patient need case for the building had been made by the HWB report already, and it would be better to refer now and gather information about other funding options in the time given by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for all parties to present evidence. The fact is that the PCT is still in place and this problem was created by the current NHS’s neglect, despite many years of budget surpluses. Who or whatever is locally in charge of health services in the wake of the reforms, and whatever body might actually be in place to carry out refurbishment, there should be a directive in place to refurbish and use FHC for the delivery of public health.

Of course Secretary of State Lansley could always just decide one way or another when it is referred, although he and other ministers have said repeatedly that the matter would go to the IRP for guidance if this happens. Cllr Klute seems to think there might be a more immediate decision if the grant funding options are firmed up and that this should just be a matter of ‘making a few phone calls.’ In the wake of a unanimous decision by the HWB to wait for another month before referral we can only share that hope.

Berthold Lubetkin’s daughter Sasha attended our rally but had to leave before the vote. Beforehand she said that with the upsurge of TB, bedbugs and vitamin D deficiency, FHC may have to go back to some of the original services it originally provided!

SaveFHC still planning a public meeting about the future of FHC and the NHS on 30 September in Exmouth Market, more details about this soon.

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