London Indymedia

Whittington board plans rejected by thousands

Simon | 17.03.2013 19:09 | Health | Social Struggles | London

Public say no to plans by the north London, Whittington Hospital's board to sell-off £17m of its buildings and sack around half of its staff.

IHOOPs at the march
IHOOPs at the march

The march begins on Holloway Road
The march begins on Holloway Road

Rally outside the Whittington
Rally outside the Whittington

Around 5,000 people protested on Islington’s streets on March 16 against cuts and sell-off proposals by Whittington Hospital board of directors.

They opposed the board’s plan to sell up to one third of the hospitals buildings for £17m and cut staff by around one half.

The protest was organized by Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition with support from IHOOPs.

Islington Trades Council, unions, such as the fire brigades’ FBU, Unite, Unison and GMB, local political parties and groups and MPs, marched down Holloway Road to rally outside the hospital.

Notable marchers and speakers included Islington Council leader, Catherine West, MPs, Emily Thornberry MP, London Assembly deputy chair, Jennette Arnold, Glenda Jackson MP and even Lib Dems MP Lynne Featherstone.

Camden New Journal had their own bus as well as the Ham & High. They were joined by media celebrities such as Only Fools and Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack, comedian Victoria Wood, former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy and columnist Caitlin Moran.

Speaking at the rally outside the Whittington, Islington North MP, Jeremy Corbyn, said he supported the board’s proposals to expand community care but not to replace hospital provision.

He attacked the board for a selling a hospital building some time ago only to rent it back from a company based in tax-free Channel Isles.

He continued: “Once you start portioning off bits of health service, you end up with us as tenants of the private sector rather than as the proud owners of the public sector. That’s why we are telling the hospital board we are against the sell off.
“I look at the census returns for our community. I see a fast rising population. They are all at risk without a major hospital nearby.

“We are not alone: Lewisham hospital in south London, Chase Farm Hospital, west London hospitals, all over London, the same nonsensical financial criteria is being used. Where PFI comes in to bleed the NHS dry, building are sold off, people made redundant and then services are auctioned off to the private sector to make a huge killing.”

Frank Dobson MP said: “It feels that I have been campaigning to save the Whittington for 1,000 years but the policy now seems to be insane. The Whittington is the safest hospital in the UK because it has a few more nurses than the national average. They now want to cut the number of nurses so that it has the average.”

Angela Sinclair, whose husband worked for the Finsbury Health Centre, a forerunner of the NHS, attacked the government for ignoring what the majority of people wanted. “They must be mad and anti-democractic,” she said.

Author and progressive campaigner, Owen Jones, lives locally and spoke at the rally. He said: “I have been overwhelmed by the response from local people who have been treated at the Whittington. But we have to link this campaign to the offensive against the NHS. This government has no mandate whatsoever to launch a privatization campaign against the NHS.”

Unison’s George Binet told the crowd that his mother in the US depended on a medicine every day to help her with terminal cancer. Despite Obama’s health care proposals, she has to spend $20 a day for it.

At the rally, a big applause followed a speech by Andrew Murray, chair of Stop the War and chief of staff for Unite.
He said: “There are two important issues - stopping war and save the NHS. You can judge politicians by how they respond to these issues.

“We should ask Cameron, if your big society can occupy Afghanistan, why is it not big enough to keep the Whittington open.”

Tottenham MP David Lammy told the crowd that himself and his children were born at the Whittington. He said: “I said back in 2010, that I would chain myself to the hospital to keep it open. I haven’t changed my opinion."

Chair of London Keep NHS Public and the Camden campaign, Candy Udwin said that there were rumours that the Whittington board may change their proposals. She said: “We don’t want them to rewrite their proposals and come up with what they had before. We want them to scrap the proposals altogether.”

Only Fools and Horses actor, Roger Lloyd Pack commented on hospital managers’ plans to increase the use care in the community. He said: “We see the walking wounded in Kentish Town Road who are being supported by care in the community. We need to get out in the streets and show our opposition to the devastation this is causing.”

IHOOPs campaigners, Gary Heather and Ken Muller and spoke. Ken said that Islington members in his teachers’ union, NUT, donated £500 to the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition Campaign.

He also said: “We know that the Whittington is important to teachers and to children. It they attack the NHS, it’s at their own risk.

“Strike action must be an important tactic. We’ve found that it has been in our campaign against free schools.”

Catherine West reminded the meeting that Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition chair person, Shirley Franklin received an Islington Mayor Civic Award in 2011 for her campaigning.

Speakers called on the protesters to join the London-wide to defend London’s NHS on 18 May.

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