Works to FHC nearly finished; health reforms rejigged

Two and a half months after the works to Finsbury Health Centre were to be done and paid for, and a month after they were reported to the North Central London Cluster (PCT) as ‘nearly finished’, the work seems actually to be coming to an end. English Heritage are satisfied with the job done, and staff report that the new paint and carpets, with at long last a computer connection for the sexual health clinic, are most welcome after all these years of neglect. Repeated queries about how much the work has actually cost still have not been answered. Most of SaveFHC’s experts reckoned ‘no more than £150k’ when they finally saw a detailed list – less than half of the £350k which was supposed to be dedicated to the ‘mini-refurbishment’. Indeed it has been difficult to find out who within the PCT is even overseeing the works – when asked, SaveFHC was referred to the contractor’s site manager!

After the many years of neglect and recent disruption – is there going to be some sort of topping off party for the staff? When the idea was floated to the PCT, it was neither confirmed nor ruled out. Their reply suggested they hadn’t thought of having one.

Meeting tonight

SaveFHC certainly has something to celebrate. Reportedly the PCT is now looking to use the building for healthcare ‘for the long term.’. This is better than the last consultation’s assertion that ‘there are no plans to move any other services (besides orthotics) out in the foreseeable future’. Hopefully with a shiny new (non-conflicting with NHS brand identity) name to be decided at tonight’s (Thurs) 7.30pm meeting in St Clements Church, Kings Square EC1, the mooted Finsbury Health Centre Community Trust will be able to complete its paperwork over the summer. Tom Cordell has offered to do a showing of his film ‘Utopia London’ as a fundraiser. It begins with Lubetkin and Finsbury Health Centre, and has been shortlisted for an award at the Open City London Documentary Festival and screens this Friday June 17.

Health reforms: Pause, then onward into the fog

No need to labour this point since it has been all over the press this week. The best summations of the changes were in the Health Services Journal and on the BBC website. For background on how the NHS has ended up in this pickle, see the New Left Project’s ‘The NHS: Anatomy of a Demolition’ Part 1 and Part 2, which traces market encroachment on the NHS over the last 20 years.

Based on SaveFHC’s fight, which started two years before the election, the irony of all this is that Lansley could have had the same amount of market influence only slightly slower if he’d left things alone. Labour had already developed the NHS into the slave of the internal market. With PFI, Independent Supplier Treatment Centres (ISTC), GP admin and management etc., private cherry-picking of the most profitable NHS assets and services had already begun. If the Labour Party wants to offer an alternative to the mash-up which is now Lansley’s bill, it needs to rouse from its long fascination with the market’s ‘transformational’ effect on public services.

Entrepreneurship in many public services has transformed, more often than not, into financialisation – which, if the Southern Cross care homes debacle is anything to go by, can ultimately threaten disappearance.

Finsbury Health Centre is an example of how a group of local councillors set out to solve a clear set of problems and ended up with a building which established basic principles for modern health architecture. (See History)  The key factors for success: they were in touch with their electorate; had empirical evidence about the causes of people’s ill-health and the resources to do something about it; they understood the problems they wanted to solve. All during the 1930s and an economic downturn worse than this one has been – so far. Architect Lubetkin’s principle ‘Nothing’s too good for ordinary people’ established a  public building and service which has been a source of community pride for over 70 years. Why can’t we learn from what works?

A mea culpa from the Labour Party may be too much to ask, but a bolder assertion of a democratic state’s crucial role in paying for and organising basic public services and infrastructure would be a good start.

Active summer

People aren’t taking the Tories’ attempt to finish off the social contract lying down. The PCS, the teachers, London Underground, etc all have plans for strikes in the next few weeks, and groups like UKuncut are organising almost weekly events in and around banks and tax-evading corporate shops. Students in Bloomsbury have been kicking up about the announcement of the private New College for the Humanities, coming as it does with the rise in fees and axing of government funding for social sciences and the humanities. NHS Direct Action and Keep Our NHS Public have been confronting Lansley, the Dept of Health and various private health ‘providers’ with auctions and die-ins for several months, and the Islington Labour Party is meeting about the NHS this Saturday. These can all be followed on their respective websites. Have fun!


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