Published: 2 July, 2013
By TOM FOOT
IT is the heart-warming news that everybody who marched through the streets of north London behind the New Journal's battle bus has been waiting - and hoping - to hear.
Tonight (Tuesday), boardroom bosses at the Whittington Hospital told a panel of councillors at Camden Town Hall that the hated plan to sell nearly half its buildings and cut hundreds of posts has been ripped up.
It marked the latest victory for the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition and the New Journal and its sister newspaper, the Islington Tribune, which first revealed the original plan in an exclusive expose earlier this year. We then helped organise the massive protest against the scheme, drew in high-profile support and led the march to the hospital.
Tonight, medical director Dr Greg Battle told the council's scrutiny there has been a "complete rethink" following a three-month review.
He said the board would outline a revised "estates strategy" and an official announcement would be made by the Highgate NHS Trust next week.
Dr Battle said: "The mindset has changed. What we are saying is that we won't draw a line in the sand with what we are going to do like we did before. We have refreshed the strategy so that there is not going to be any certainty about how things in the future might look like. It is a complete rethink."
The Highgate NHS trust was forced into a three-month "listening exercise" following outcry over a decision made in January to sell-off a vast chunk of publicly-owned land and buildings. Next week the hospital will announce its response to the exercise before fuller details are presented to the board in July, with a full debate scheduled for September.
The original plan was to dramatically downsize the hospital and move treatment out into patients' homes or in nearby health centres, axing 570 staff posts, closing patient wards, and capping births in the maternity unit in the process.
Patients, politicians and even the hospital's own governors were not informed of the major decision that was agreed by the board in January after a five-minute public discussion.
Dr Battle said, in the future, there would never be any disposal of buildings or major changes at the Whittington without fully consulting with the public first, adding: "Since the strategy came out into the public domain we realised that we have not done enough with that."
The changes follow a ministerial statement on Friday in the House of Commons that there are now "no plans for significant overall reduction" of Whittington staff.
Executive medical director Martin Kuper told tonight's meeting: "What we are saying is that the original plan was always provisional. We are saying now that we will have to notice a change in demand before any changes like this are made. Not every option is selling things off."
But he warned that "undoubtedly there will be less [sic] beds in the future" as this was "happening all over the world".
The meeting heard that the U-turn had been made easier by a shift in government policy over Foundation Trust hospitals. The hospital's crucial application, which will guarantee the future of the trust as an independent organisation, does not now have to be submitted this year as previously thought. The delay has given the board time to reassess its strategy.
Summing up, committee chairman Cllr John Bryant said: "What I am getting here is that there will not be any discussion about disposals – until at least next year – and if there are any disposals [in the future] then they would be better worked out reasons for them."
The board nodded in agreement and said that full details of the new plan would be revealed before the next board meeting on July 24.