• Campaigners to picket 17 February hospital board meeting
Whittington Hospital’s proposed property sell off could lead to a private health business replacing it, a former health minister has warned.
Camden MP and Labour’s ex-health secretary, Frank Dobson, speculated during the meeting on 12 February that a US health business could buy up part of the Whittington.
He was speaking at the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition’s a 500-strong meeting at Archway Methodist Church called to oppose a shock plan to sell up to one third of the hospital’s land and buildings.
Frank Dobson said: “Who is going to buy the land? The land’s been designated for use for health facilities. We will get a private, American health company who will buy it and then build a hospital."
He also said: “The Whittington is the safest hospital in England. This might have something to do with the fact that it has a high number of staff to its patients. Yet, in seeking to qualify for foundation status, it is reducing its staff to the national norm.”
Tottenham MP David Lammy passionately warned that a few years in the future with a smaller, less viable Whittington, arguments could be made that it should be merged with another hospital.
Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn told the meeting he examined the pages and pages of proposals. He warned that bed numbers would be cut by half to 177 and staff could be reduced by between 300 and 500.
He confirmed that planning regulations designated the hospital land for use for health services only but he also reflected fears that the land could be used for luxury flats.
Hospital board chairman Joe Liddane admitted to the meeting that they botched their communications and pledged to hold meetings with the public to explain all.
He claimed that public health would be improved through spending sell off proceeds on maternity services and an increase in care in the community made better by medical advances.
He was backed by board members at the meeting and one GP, from the audience, who pleaded that managers were doing their best to keep the hospital in the NHS.
But most speakers from local associations and hospital campaigns in London rejected the proposal. Islington MP, Emily Thornberry and council leader, Catherine West, stressed that the local community loved the Whittington.
Speakers from the Save Lewisham Hospital, the Camden’s defend health services campaign and local author and political commentator Owen Jones, called for mass demos, occupation and strike action. Coalition chair, Shirley Franklyn attacked the lack of consultation fo the decision and called for a picket of the next hospital board meeting due for 17 February.
The meeting overwhelming supported a call to the managers to halt the sell off and backed a planned protest march on 16 March.