Actor Dominic West warns that the time to protest against NHS reforms is now (Pic: Simon Kisner)
Published: 21 February 2013
EXCLUSIVE by TOM FOOT, PAVAN AMARA, DAN CARRIER and PETER GRUNER
AN unprecedented red carpet alliance has swung behind the New Journal campaign to save the Whittington Hospital ahead of a massive people power protest march through the streets of north London next month.
Horrified stars of stage, screen and the written word have lent their support to the campaign calling on the hospital's board to halt their plans to sell off a huge chunk of the site in Highgate and axe hundreds of jobs, including 200 nursing posts.
Speaking to the New Journal about their fears for the Whittington and the NHS are The Wire actor Dominic West, film director Stephen Frears singers Annie Lennox and Ms Dynamite, and actors Juliet Stevenson, Rupert Graves and Dexter Fletcher. There is support from Alexandra Burke, the X-Factor chart topper, comedian Alexei Sayle and crime writer Martina Cole.
Their willingness to speak on the record about their concern does not override the hard work on the ground by the Defend the Whittington Coalition. Residents and patients sparked up their campaign after reading about the shock plans in a New Journal and Islington Tribune exclusive last month, while a collection of north London MPs have already condemned the plans and urged the board to think again.
But it is hoped the celebrity support may raise the profile just another peg, as it has done in many campaigns before, and provide a boost ahead of what promises to be a huge community march from Highbury Corner to the hospital site on March 16.
Thousands of readers of this newspaper, many of whom remember our red battlebus when people marched to save the accident and emergency three years ago, are expected to join in.
Dominic West – who played detective Jimmy McNulty in phenomenon The Wire and also starred in The Hour – said: “Everybody should support this. It’s essential this hospital stays open. There is a lot going on at the moment and not nearly enough is being done to stop it. We need to come together and do something now before it’s too late, otherwise this will be a disaster. We will only know how bad it is when it’s over, when this country is a very different place and all the damage has been done. They are trying to balance numbers but playing with lives. People think it’s just one closure and they’ll go elsewhere, but it is slipping from our grasp.”
Ms Lennox said: “The NHS is a British institution, hospitals aren't a choice they are a necessity. This is our country’s backbone and it’s slipping away.”
And the mother of singer Alexandra Burke, former soul singer Melissa Bell, said: “I absolutely support the campaign to save the Whittington and so does Alex. She was once bitten by our little puppy and she needed an anti-tetanus injection. The staff have always been kind.”
Five times Olivier award winning film and theatre director Sir Richard Eyre told the New Journal: “This campaign is too important not to support”, while crime fiction best seller Martina Cole told our reporters: “I will be there marching with everyone next month, because when the NHS is gone we will really miss it.”
BAFTA award winning film director Stephen Frears, who directed My Beautitful Launderette and a series of other hits, added: “I support the campaign to save the Whittington Hospital. My brother was in the hospital when he had a heart attack. Selling half of the Whittington would be a mistake.”
Opera director Sir Jonathan Miller, who was a medical student at the Whittington, said: “What we are going to get here is elderly and frail people stuck at home”. Comic writer Charlie Higson simply described the proposal as “insane”. Juliet Stevenson said health bosses should “meddle with the NHS at their peril” and Niomi McLean-Daley, aka Ms Dynamite, said “health care should be the last place to suffer from cuts”.
Actor Christopher Biggins meanwhile added: “I am fully in support of this, hospitals are far too important to mess around with them.”
Top medical experts have also joined the fray including Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs – the largest college in the country – who told the New Journal: “I’m sad to hear the Whittington is threatened. It’s a fantastic local district general hospital, teaching hospital and centre of excellence.”
The march on March 16 starts at Highbury Corner at 11.30am ending with a rally outside the hospital’s main entrance in Magdala Avenue.
The march has been supported by NHS campaigns across London, including the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign group which got 20,000 people on a march last month.
On Wednesday, the board will get a taste of what is to come at a “lobby” protest organised by the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition. Campaigners will urge bosses to scrap their plans at a crunch meeting in the Whittington Education Centre – one of the buildings set to be sold off under the current plans – from 1.30pm.
At a planning meeting in Archway Methodist Hall on Monday night the activists discussed plans for the lobby and the march.
DWHC chairwoman Shirley Franklin said: “The lobby is the most important thing that we need to build at the moment. We want representation from all the different groups.”
Organisers want people who are too old or disabled to complete the whole march to meet them at Archway tube. The Whittington is holding its own meeting in its N19 restaurant from 6.30pm on Monday
Annie Lennox, singer: “The NHS is a British institution, hospitals aren’t a choice they are a necessity. This is our country’s backbone and it's slipping away.”
Dominic West, actor: “Everybody should support this, it's essential this hospital stays open. These closures are paving the way to the end of our NHS. We need to come together and do something now before it’s too late, otherwise this will be a disaster. We will only know how bad it is when it’s over, when this country is a very different place and all the damage has been done. Most people cannot afford private healthcare, I don’t know where they are going to go.
Christopher Biggins, TV personality: “Our NHS is sacred, it is very important to support this campaign in every way. If we don't, the powers that be will be left to it and that will be a disaster in every way.”
Martina Cole, crime writer: “I will be there marching with everyone next month, because when the NHS is gone we will really miss it. At the moment many people can’t see it’s being taken away from us, but not in an obvious way. We should be fighting for our NHS, because its what makes this country. There is no limit to what British people should be doing to save our hospitals. The Whittington is a huge hospital and if that’s going, then what next?
Stephen Frears, film director: “I support the campaign to save the Whittington Hospital. My brother was in the hospital when he had a heart attack. Selling half of the Whittington would be a mistake. Our NHS is a great British invention, far too important to lose. The money can be saved in other ways, but it is not acceptable to close our hospital to cut costs.”
Sir Richard Eyre, director: “This campaign is too important not to support, hospitals cannot be left to close. If they are, this country will be facing more problems than it has ever known before. We are treading into very dangerous territory with this. This is an absolute disgrace.”
Sir Jonathan Miller, writer, opera director: “Whenever people talk about care in to the community they about dumping them in the community. It is like what they did at the mental hospitals when they got rid of those hospitals and put people into the community. What you got there was mad people in the community and what we are going to get here is elderly and frail people stuck at home.”
Juliet Stevenson, actress: “I do not like the way changes are sneaked through without telling the public. Every single person – every single family – uses the nhs and it is something that effects everybody. We are very fortunate to have it and if you meddle with, it is at your peril. It is difficult to stomach cuts to the health service when the Government is bailing out the banks.”
Alexei Sayle, comedian: “It sounds like a bad idea. I used the hospital many years ago when I fell down the stairs. The treatment was really good.”
Dexter Fletcher, actor: “It’s hard enough being a nurse, a doctor, a healthcare worker without these constant pressures and changes being heaped on you. People do not go into the medical profession to make money they go into it because they care for others and we need to make sure they have the tools and facilities to do their jobs properly. I know the Whittington and I am worried about the changes they are planning to make.”
Charlie Higson, writer and actor: “I live in Holloway and we used the hospital a lot over the last few years. I think the hospital does an excellent job – it seems to me a place where things are done very well so you have to ask why they would want to change that. Really it seems insane.”
Hank Wangford, country and western singer, doctor: “There is a sense of this being about humanity versus efficiency. The management class have historically been very jealous and envious of the clinical class. They have tried to make us use their language, calling patients clients or customers. I refuse to do that. Managers often do not understand about patient care.”
Ms Dynamite singer, Mobo-winner: “The Whittington is extremely important to the people in this area. My siblings and cousins were born there, and we have all used it’s excellent services. Irrespective of government finances, healthcare should be the last place to suffer from cuts and the last place we should be thinking of taking money from. I support the campaign to save the Whittington.”
Alexandra Burke and mother Melissa Bell, singers: “I absolutely support the campaign to save the Whittington and so does Alex. The service was very efficient. And I was very happy with the treatment. I remember taking Alex there when she was a little girl for various checks up. She was once bitten by our little puppy and she needed an anti-tetanus injection. The staff have always been kind.”
Max Stafford-Clark, theatre director: “I’m desperately unhappy about the proposed cuts. I was talking to a nurse there on Wednesday morning and it was thought that that care for the elderly, maternity and mental health will all be cut. I totally support the campaign to save the hospital which is already under staffed.”
Actor Rupert Graves and wife Susie: “We’ve used the A&E service regularly and it has always been very good. We are opposed to any cuts.”
Maurice Gran, comedy writer: “It was the mid 1980s but I remember the experience with some fondness although parts of the hospital was very ramshackle. The maternity service was fantastic."