Monday, 13 May 2013

Babies don't make money, and other revelations.

Yesterday I attended an open day at the Whittington Hospital. I was interested to see the buildings that the trust are planning to sell off, and so booked myself, along with my husband and two children, on the tour.

We were led by Phlip Ient, the Whittington’s Director of Estates and Facilities. The first building we viewed, albeit from the outside, was Waterlow, which is the big big brick building on Highgate Hill, straight after the ‘Whittington & Cat’ pub. The building has been empty for ten years, having originally been part of the mental health services accommodation.

Behind this building was historically nurses’ accommodation. It looks quite dilapidated from the outside but it is still occupied, now by medical students, letting them live right next to their place of study at very modest prices. Once this is sold off, medical students will instead live in accommodation on Sussex Way. Although of a much better standard, this accommodation will cost students about three times as much.

We asked whether this might deter some students from studying medicine, seeing as a degree in medicine is already reported to cost students somewhere in the region of £100,000? Mr Ient said that many students already take advantage of the better accommodation at Sussex Way. What he neglected to say was that many of them do not, and are currently residing in the accommodation at the Whittington, which they are planning to sell off.

On the other side of this building, on the ground floor the Whittington currently houses the physiotherapy department. I have made use of these services myself and can report that the staff were excellent and the service first class. Mr Ient explained that they need to move the physio department into the main hospital because it would be “better”. Better, how, I asked? He replied that people cannot find where it is at the moment. I responded by saying that I had never had a problem finding it, probably because there are lots of signs up and my appointment letter came complete with a map.

We then discussed the issue of the maternity wing, which needs modernisation – no arguments there. I know many women who have given birth at the Whittington and have reported that the facilities are positively Victorian. Mr Ient said that they needed to improve or they would lose ‘business’ to better maternity services, such as those at University College Hospital.

He said that they are aiming to increase births to around 6000 per year. I asked why then, in the original plans, they had said they were ‘capping’ births at 4000 per year? “We made a mistake there,” he admitted. “Well, I did.”

“When it comes to maternity services,” he explained, “it doesn’t make any money for us. We just about make the money back that we put in, but that’s about it.”

We found it staggering that he was talking as though the NHS, and, by extension, the issue of life and death, was a money-making venture. Profits and loses. But then, with the marketisation of our health service, introduced by Labour and carrying on apace under the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, that is exactly what we have now. It is thoroughly depressing, as all health campaigners will attest.

I asked why, when the Care Quality Commission reported just two weeks ago that the Whittington was doing well in all areas except putting patients on the correct wards, due to lack of beds, they are planning to close a further 177 beds over the next five years? I was given the answer that, because of the way they planned to care for people at home, they would not need beds as much any more. Reiterating the point that the board members keep making, that the ‘clinical advice’ is that keeping people in hospital is a bad idea, he explained that there would be  60 beds closed initially, with the space being used as an open-plan admin space. If, he went on, there were more beds needed again in the future, they could turn the space back into a ward. Why don’t I believe that would be likely to happen?

In conclusion, we went home with Ham’n’High bags full of crap for the kids (they foisted these on us, naturally), and heavy hearts about the future of our local hospital and the NHS in general.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Defending the Whittington

I spoke with Robert Aitken, Whittington board member, at our Camden Green Party stall in Highgate last Saturday.

He told me that they were closing the 175 beds because of clinical evidence that being in hospital is bad for people. It confuses elderly people and it results in muscle loss generally. He said people should be cared for by friends and neighbours, or, failing that, the NHS would take care of them in their homes. Ah yes, care in the community...ring any (alarm) bells?

This week, a report showed that the Whittington is doing well in 10 out of 11 areas. The one area it is failing in is putting patients onto the appropriate wards because - guess what - they don't have enough beds. And so I'm not sure how closing another 175 beds is going to improve that, particularly as London's population is projected to hit 9m in 2018.

I put this to Robert. He said they had factored that in. I'm not sure how. He also said that "if we need more beds we will just have to find them." Forgive me if I don't believe that. People will be turned away and lives will be lost.

As for selling off the dilapidated, disused buildings, I am not completely opposed to this, unlike the Defend the Whittington campaigners. My only concern with that is that the hospital will become much smaller and, at some point, they will say it is 'no longer viable'. Robert denied that this will happen, and that "it is not in our [the board's] interest to close it down!" but, if we look at Haringey - 6 hospitals at the beginning of the '80s, now down to one, with only 3 wards, one of which is about to close - I don't see why we should believe that.

Furthermore, as I pointed out to Robert, the board has completely lost the trust of the community, having tried to sneak these plans through without consultation. "We shot ourselves in the foot there..." was his response to that. Indeed.