Enough of all this ‘death’ talk

Ok, so now the health reform bill is through. Bar the unlikely success of a bid to get the Queen not to sign it, this bloated piece of legislation, written the kind of complicated yet vague language meant to ensure the reader loses the will to live, festering with amendments and over the most concerted opposition by doctors ever.

A lot of us wrote letters to MPs, Lords, signed various petitions (the biggest one ended up being 38Degrees), went on pickets, marches, organised meetings, held street ‘auctions’ of health services. But not enough, and when there were what should have been enough doing all these things, it was too late to turn this particular part of the saga from away from a bad ending.

But really…let’s make sure this ‘saga’ continues. Now that the doctors have agreed about what they don’t want, can we hear from them and public health experts, about what they do? One reason opposition to this bill took so long to pick up steam was that really, almost everyone who had anything to do with PCTs directly were fed up with them. Although our campaign had a lot of support among people working at Finsbury Health Centre, there was great fear of speaking out – and indeed when people did they were severely spoken to afterwards. Lanlsey’s bill will not change this culture, and if anything will make it worse.

We can already see what happens where our brave new healthcare market has already let profit-driven companies run things: Southern Cross, and lately the closure of whole GP practice in Camden have caused untold chaos and worry for patients.

There are still things to do to preserve the scraps of what’s left, outlined by Richard Blogger writing for False Economy which involve getting involved in the structures formed by the bill. More ideas from Andrew Craig here. There is an opportunity to find out more about how to do this Wednesday at the Islington Link Fair, 4-8pm at The Resource Centre, Holloway Road, N7 6PA where the main existing group for patient participation will be talking about the issues facing patients. (Unfortunately their website is down, phone 020 7832 5813 for more information.) There are also already moves underway to push for a ‘Restore the NHS’ bill, and get NHS candidates to elected to parliament and local councils…

We also need to be thinking about what kind of NHS we want restored. The PCTs (now in clusters) are opaque and unaccountable to the public they are supposed to serve. Given the history of FHC, which was commissioned by a local health committee under the guidance of a Medical Officer for Health (a doctor responsible for researching and advocating for public health) I’ve never understood why the old PCT/trust functions could not be done by elected councillors in a decision-making health committee. When we started this campaign that’s how most people thought things ran already.

So please, no more talk of death, there is still plenty left to fight for.

All out for demos and rallies 7 March

More Lords a leaping over the NHS

Yet more amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill are being discussed in the Lords today and tomorrow. Now, not only care can be privatised, but even patient representation, as outlined by Lord Toby Harris here.

There are several events planned tomorrow:
A human chain around St Thomas’s Hospital – 12-2pm
Lobby your MP in Parliament 1-5pm – just fill in a slip and ask to see your MP about your concerns
Join the Doctors’ Educational march from BMA headquarters at 5.15pm to
TUC rally at Westminster Central Methodist Hall, 6-8pm

Two major GP supporters of the bill announced in the Guardian they’ve (finally) figured out that in fact the National Commissioning Board and Monitor will have more power than the Clinical Commissioning Groups over health spending. Number 10 even did the dirty on Lansley over the weekend, complaining via the Times about his lack of diplomacy in dealing with criticism of the bill and even hinting that he should be shot!

There is still time to write to a Lord (a list is here, and another here) and remind him or her – preferably on paper and posted but if not, online – that this bill destroys the last vestiges of the NHS as a unified public service, which will increasingly not be free at the point of delivery – whether that’s in up front charges or fear of them driving people to buy extra (private) health insurance. And send a copy to your MP while you’re at it.

There is also a 10 Downing St petition to simply ‘Drop the Bill’ which has nearly 170,000 signatures but has been so far ruled out for debate. You can sign it here, would be great to get it to 200,000 and force the government to reconsider.

Keep Our NHS Public has been working overtime on this issue, please donate via their website. Without a cohesive NHS, Finsbury Health Centre’s position as a public health centre will be in danger, whatever the planning regs now say – and really I’d rather be raising funds for a full refurbishment and update of FHC than fighting a takeover by BUPA or some such.

Next meeting: Monday 13 February 7.30 at St Clements Kings Square EC1

At our next meeting we’ll be having an update on moves towards establishing a building preservation trust, and planning a public event to celebrate both the continued use of Finsbury Health Centre as an NHS heath centre and the new Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust.

BDonline has recently published an article about FHC’s future being ‘secure’ when in fact it feels far from it unless the Health Reform Bill is dropped. The Bill in its original form said nothing about NHS property, and September’s directive to devolve ownership to providers using over 50% of the building has apparently been resisted by the potential Foundation Trusts and GP surgeries affected. We have been trying to arrange a tour of the building in the wake of the emergency works for months, but are being told that ‘they are not quite finished yet’.

Where’s the bill now?

In the meantime, Lansley’s NHS reform bill is still in the Lords. Most of the healthcare professionals’ colleges have come out against it, with the glaring exception of the Royal College of Surgeons. 38Degrees has just published this Yougov survey of NHS staff, who are overwhelmingly opposed.

A belated Happy New Year…

A belated Happy New Year to all our supporters. The improvements to FHC started last spring are still ‘not quite’ finished, despite the claim that the work all had to be done ‘by the end of March 2011’ but at least the building is still open and doing what it was built to do – providing a range of primary care services to local patients. Another good by-product of our campaign is that The Pine Street Centre has also been brought back into use by the Michael Palin Stammering Centre (piece about the opening about 3/5 down the page), freeing up space for other services at FHC. More soon about the Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust being set up to look after the building and make sure it remains a community asset…

Bevan’s Run for the NHS

This coming Sunday sees the end of Dr Clive Peedell’s initiative Bevan’s Run in protest against the Health Reform Bill, at Richmond House, Whitehall, approximately 2pm. This bill is in its last stages in the House of Lords despite strong opposition from most bodies representing healthcare professionals. It represents a final death-blow to the NHS as we’ve known and loved it, and threatens to throw the system into even more chaos than was caused the internal market and recent cuts. Keep Our NHS Public has a good run-down of the problems the Bill will set up for both patients and professionals, and they’ve been busy galvanising last-ditch efforts to block the bill’s passage. Do look at their website for both what is wrong with the bill and ways you can help oppose it – it’s not too late. We’ll be there on Sunday with our banner to cheer Dr Peedell, please join us!

Problems getting physio at FHC

On Monday 16 January 7.30pm, the newly renamed ‘Health Scrutiny Committee’ (formally the Health and Wellbeing Review Committee) will be looking at the provision of Physiotherapy at Finsbury Health Centre in the wake of the many complaints about restrictions in the service there. Our latest information is that the person from Whittington Health (the ‘provider body’ now responsible local primary care services) who was supposed to come along and answer questions about this has cancelled, but the issue is still on the agenda, so do come along if you’ve had problems getting physio appointments at FHC or are worried for its future.

Articles re FHC

In the autumn both the Clerkenwell Post and the Islington Archaeology and History Society ran stories about the campaign to save Finsbury Health Centre. Here is the Clerkenwell Post article and the one from IAHS is available on application to the Society. Thanks to the editors of both for their interest.

See you at the bridge tomorrow?

showing Finsbury Health Centre in the foreground, boy with rickets in a derelict backyard with 'disease' and 'neglect' written on the walls

Your Britain - Fight for it Now!

In a last-ditch effort to express public disapproval of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Reform Bill, which starts its process through the House of Lords next Tuesday Oct 11, many along with UKUncut and Keep Our NHS Public are preparing to block Westminster Bridge tomorrow (Sun 9 Oct) from 1-6pm. More info on this link. We’ll be there with our banner made from Abram Games’ famous WWII poster ‘Your Britain – Fight For It Now’. For people who can’t make it there, both the TUC and 38Degrees have put up sites to make it easy to write to a Lord of your choice to urge them to block this bill. Here’s a handy online list of contact emails and telephone numbers of Liberal and crossbench Lords.

As many, including SaveFHC have pointed out, much of the groundwork for this bill was laid by the last Labour government with its promotion of an internal market within the NHS, the opening up of NHS services to private contractors via the ‘World Class Commissioning’ programme and PFI contracts. As it stands, however, the current bill will bring in a wholesale auctioning off of services to ‘any qualified (org. willing) provider’, a proliferation of quangos to oversee commissioning – doubling them at the last count, and the abolition of the Secretary of State of Health’s responsibility for the NHS. In short, chaos, cuts to services, conflicts of interest for GPs and even less democratic accountability than before.

In terms of immediate effects for our campaign, it seems that NHS property will be transferred to which ever body provides over 50% of the service provision. We thought at first this meant FHC would go to Whittington Health, which is forming a Foundation Trust which includes both the hospital and primary care services in Islington. At the Whittington Health AGM, however, it seems that they are resisting taking over responsibility for the building in 2013, which makes the formation of a community trust to take over refurbishment and management of the building all the more urgent. This is underway, and progressing towards charitable status.

Hopefully one day we’ll be able to look back on this period as a whole as one of collective madness. In the meantime, see you at the bridge?

Next FHCPT meeting 26 September; Health Bill crunch time

SaveFHC took a hiatus this summer, long needed after the almost constant campaigning of the last three years. Not entirely inactive, however – Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust is now a company limited by guarantee, and we are waiting for the paperwork to attain charitable status. The next FHCPT meeting will be on Monday, 26 September, 7.30pm at St Clements Church, Kings Square, EC1. Please note this is a change from the date given earlier this month.

Tomorrow (31 August) is the last day for the Wellcome Trust’s excellent exhibition ‘Dirt’ which features two original Cullen cartoons explaining the design of Finsbury Health Centre.

Health Bill crunch time

The third reading of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill is scheduled next week for the 6 & 7 of September, after which (if approved) the bill will go to the House of Lords. Not much in the bill has changed in the wake of the government’s ‘Listening Exercise’ earlier this year, and many bodies of health professionals are still calling for the bill to be scrapped. See Keep Our NHS Public’s website for updates and links to more information about the bill and action against it.

There will be events across the country on 3 & 4 September as part of the Big NHS Weekend –  details here. In addition The NHS Support Federation has put up a site for emailing MPs and councillors easily here. The TUC has started an online vigil to coincide with an actual vigil at Parliament starting at 9am Wed 7 Sept. A march is planned to leave from St Thomas’s Wed 6.30 to which will join the vigil at Parliament. GPs have also organised their own petition against the bill here. Earlier this month Dr Wendy Savage of Keep Our NHS Public had this letter published in the Guardian. If you need even more reasons why the bill is such a bad thing the campaign group 38 Degrees has just published this advice from their legal experts who have examined the bill in detail – it also provides a facility to write directly to your MP about it.

If, as seems likely, the bill passes the Commons this week, it goes to the House of Lords. The TUC also has started an ‘Adopt a Peer’ webpage to lobby them against the bill. Privatisation has caused enough disruption to the NHS already, the further encrochment provided for in this bill will destroy it altogether.

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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