Huge turn out despite rain sends clear message to Whittington board: Hands off our NHS
Published: 16 March 2013
by ANDREW JOHNSON
An estimated 5,000 people braved the drizzle to march along Holloway Road today to send a defiant message to the board of the Whittington Hospital: Hands off our NHS.
Cars honked their approval as the Defend the Whittington demonstration took an hour to walk from Highbury Corner to the hospital site in Archway.
It was called following revelations in the Tribune of the hospital's unpublicised plans to sell half the building and axe more than 500 jobs.
The Islington Tribune and Camden New Journal's battle bus - we've used big red buses in support for the UCLH and Whittington hospitals twice before - led the way, but at the head of the thousands of protesters were Islington's Council leader Catherine West, and two MPs Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn. They were joined by Tottenham MP David Lammy, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Islington's London Assembly member Jennette Arnold.
Protesters were also present from unions, the Green Party, pensioners groups, City and Islington College as well as ordinary people determined to protect the hospital from what many to believe to be "back door privatisation".
The hospital board say the changes are essential to improve care, much of which they say could better be done with patients being cared for in their homes rather than in hospitals.
But at rally outside the hospital's main entrance in Magdala Avenue speaker after speaker poured scorn on these plans.
Shirley Franklin, of the Defend the Whittington Campaign, read out a statement from a member of the hospital staff who spoke of a climate of "fear and anxiety" inside the Whittington.
Too frightened to give their name, the anonymous medical secretary said: "The first we heard of these plans was when the story was broken in the Camden New Journal. We were shocked. We have been treated appallingly. No one becomes an NHS medical secretary to be rich. We do it because it's a rewarding role and because we care about patients. It was our job to support nurses and doctors. Since Unipart (the car firm who acted as consultants) came into the hospital and decided to get rid of us we have been forgotten about."
Actor Roger Lloyd Pack, best known for playing Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, also condemned the cuts. He said that for 50 years like millions of others he had paid his national insurance stamps, and now that he was becoming of an age when he might need the NHS it was being privatised.
"Care in the community is Orwellian bollocks," he said.
Campaigner Angela Sinclair, who is in her 80s, said: "It's our hospital and they haven't got the right to sell it."
Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson was also virulent in his condemnation of the plans.
"I seem to have been campaigning to save the Whittington for 1,000 years," he said. He added that care in the Whittington was among the best in the country and that the number of nurses per patient was slightly above average.
"I'm a simply person but I think there may be a connection between the number of nurses and good patient care," he said. "To now learn that they want to reduce the number of nurses to some crappy national average beggars belief."
Archway resident Owen Jones, author of the book Chavs, said that the hospital had "picked the wrong community to mess with" while Islington Town Hall leader Cllr Catherine West picked out New Journal journalist Tom Foot who broke the story for praise. She also paid tribute to the Tribune for its "honest journalism" adding that the Labour council was firmly behind the campaign to stop the sell off.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn was last up, ending the rally with a rousing defence of the principles of the NHS.
He said that a previous building sold by the Whittington to the mental health trust had been sold on to a private property company based in the Channel Islands.
"We now rent that building back," he said. "From a private company that doesn't pay tax. Millions of people around the world live short, difficult unpleasant lives because they cannot afford health care. In the richest country in the world, America, 40 million people are without health care. They look at us with envy. Don't let it be destroyed. Don't throw it away."