Fighting to save Whittington NHS Hospital

Whittington Hospital is a local general hospital with a maternity wing and an A&E department that serves 40,000 patients a year; it has the reputation of being the safest hospital in the country. Its situation on Highgate Hill, which is a prime site two miles from the City of London, has long tempted private interests to grab the land for development. Unfortunately for them, the land is granted by ancient charter for the purposes of hospital welfare only.

The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition was set up in 2009 because the hospital board had plans to close the A&E and maternity departments and sell off some of the older buildings and land to the private sector, possibly for the building of a private hospital. Since that date there has been turmoil at the hospital with the departure of at least ten top directors and consultants and at least three plans for reduced services leaked to the media.

The public has responded to these threats of closure or shrinkage of services with meetings and marches. A five-thousand strong demonstration against the loss of A&E in April 2010 was supported by three Labour MPs, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Green Party as well at Unison, Unite the Union, the NUT, PCS, local community groups. The then Labour Government Health Secretary Andy Burnham was forced to put an end to the sell-off plans.

North London Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has continued to attend the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition meetings but has had to campaign on the streets and in the community to create a forum for political opposition to privatisation of the NHS through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the creation of foundation trusts. The Whittington Hospital Coalition is very reluctant to condemn the privatisation policies of the last Labour government or to talk about the well-documented collusion of the trades unions in outsourcing and job cutting. Protecting the electoral interests of the Labour Party puts a severe limit on effective campaigning to defend public services and the NHS.

We have held regular street meetings and stalls in the locality and have collected thousands of signatures on a petition with principled demands to save the NHS and the Whittington. Our petition says that the government continues to bail out banks and fund imperialist wars while cutting and privatising the NHS. PFI is destroying many hospitals with unaffordable debt.

The Whittington Hospital is run by Uniparts Group and employs accountancy corporation Ernst & Young to plan its future. The hospital board is set to cut services by £18m a year. Private medical companies are being invited to tender for services. Plans keep changing, but we demand that Whittington Hospital remains a safe general NHS hospital with A&E and maternity provision.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014


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