Yes, Miranda, new buildings are soo much more reliable and cheap to maintain, especially when multiple owners are involved…

While feeling no end of sympathy for the patients and staff affected, it was hard not to indulge in a tinge of Schadenfreude on hearing news that the new Holloway Community Health Centre on Hornsey St is closed due to ‘flooding’. This is where Islington PCT first proposed in 2008 to locate all of the non-GP community services available at Finsbury Health Centre. Now it seems quite fortunate that didn’t happen, despite the at the time ‘self-evident’ truth, to the PCT, that new buildings are ‘much more reliable and easy to maintain.’ People are just naturally resistant to change, they said. You poor benighted dears, they implied, you just don’t understand the demands of 21st century health care.

Refurbish a well-made old building and you’ll be able to deal with problems more efficiently, we said, and community health services, particularly those used by children and the elderly, need to be spread better throughout the borough for good access. We didn’t think of: what if that one building fails entirely?

Practically guaranteeing that what probably started out as a mole-hill would turn into this mountain, the new health centre is saddled with multiple ownership of the building in which it sits. While the flats above it are owned by Newlon Housing Association, the HCHC is owned by a LIFTco, one of the public/private entities charged with building and managing new community health buildings under the Labour government. Queue squabbling over who’s responsible for repairs affecting both, natch. Nothing can be done to fix the problem until there’s an agreement about who pays.

This has become a big headache for Whittington Health, the NHS trust which manages the community health services at HCHC and Finsbury, and the North Central London NHS, who, as the representatives of the rump of five neighbouring PCTs is responsible for dealing with the buildings like FHC which the NHS still owns outright. It seems that while both landlords deny any responsibility for the flood there’s little room for negotiation. How either can rest easy with these denials in the face of such huge public inconvenience, it is difficult to say. Neither is displaying any duty-of-care towards the people in the buildings they are contracted to manage.

Apologies for yet another ‘I told you so’ moment, but SaveFHC campaign was also highly critical of the LIFTco model. PFI deals like a LIFTco leave the NHS not only responsible for spiralling costs. We also pointed out that LIFTco’s interest in maintaining the buildings they own would be minimal, under their 30-year hand-back agreements, whatever else was said in the contracts.

Although how a LIFTco could be worse than the local NHS on building maintenance, we also couldn’t quite imagine. Until now.

Meanwhile broken appointments stack up, pain goes unrelieved, conditions undiagnosed and untreated. At this writing I don’t know if FHC is picking up the slack. At least NCL’s current estates managers are trained surveyors who actually understand and like buildings. This is a very welcome change, albeit in the twilight of its existence. I can only wish they and Whittington Health luck in sorting this abysmal situation out. As much as it is hard for us in Finsbury to get up to Hornsey St, many living in that area will find it difficult to get down here.

PS: Very oddly, despite the development of some 300 new flats rising above the Holloway Community Health Centre, and a further 1500 planned or under construction in the wider area, it was not deemed necessary to include space for a new GP practice in the new health centre. While it was still under construction the foreman told me that this was the main question on new residents’ minds. Too bad the new CCG can’t deal with that…

One Response

  1. Wheels within wheels, jobs for the boys…? It would be interesting to know how Newlon Housing Association – owner of the flats above the Holloway Community(!) Health Centre – became involved in this development. Anything to do with fact that Steve Hitchins, former Islington Council leader, is also on board of Newlan?

    Most local residents would smell a number of rats.

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