Just back from meeting the Health Minister…

April 6, 2010

… Mike O’Brien. As you would expect I lost absolutely no time asking him for his assurances to halt the current closure plans of the Whittington A&E and maternity unit on the basis that the whole process is so deeply flawed.

Mike O’Brien told me that he would not intervene. When I asked for his advice on what local people like me could do to challenge the lack of transparency and the undemocratic decision-making process he suggested a freedom of information request.

As you can imagine I am deeply unhappy about the answers I have received to my questions. I think it’s simply not good enough to refer concerned parents like me to local decision-making structures, which are deeply, deeply flawed and undemocratic. A freedom of information request might help with transparency.  But how does this ensure that the voices of local people  and the best interest of the patients are actually taken into account when it comes to making life and death decisions such as the closure of the Whittington ? Our very own North Central London NHS bureaucrats Rachel Tyndall and Richard Sumray have made it crystal clear what they think about local people – “always opposed to change anyway” – and public consultation – “no guarantee that this will have any impact on the actual decision”.

As disappointed as I am that the Minister is not willing to help us out at the moment,  he did say two important things:

Firstly, he yet again stressed that any health service changes, including to the Whittington must be based on clinical evidence and that it was vital that clinicians were given the space to discuss options, analyse data and compile evidence. He said he would ensure that the evidence was sound by getting clinicians and staff employed by the Department of Health to look at the quality of evidence presented.

Secondly, he stressed that vital decisions such as a possible closure of the Whittington A&E and maternity unit should certainly not be agreed in secret. He said he had concerns about the quality of the re-configuration process in North Central London and that the process  needed to be looked at again. 

These are two important statements, which I reckon we can count as a partial success. It might not be the flat-out victory I would have liked and I don’t think I can abandon this blog just yet  but at least the Minister has made it clear that the current planning process regarding the Whittington is not being conducted in a proper way. He also stressed that the absolute priority for changes in the health service should be improving the quality of patient care.

What was really great about the meeting was to meet some of the dedicated Whittington midwives. They are just brilliant ! It was so heart-warming to see them putting their concerns to the minister. And their concerns first and foremost are about providing good-quality services for the women they care for.  A bunch of highly skilled professionals who put their patients’ interest before their own concerns about working conditions and job security? What can I say? You’ve simply got to love them !

I was also pleased to see that Whittington staff now feels confident to speak out in public for their patients and for themselves. Even Richard Jennings, Clinical Director of Medicine at the Whittington, whom I met a few weeks ago when he took great care to avoid expressing an opinion about the proposed closures,  today confidently put his arguments to the minister on behalf of all the clinicians of the Whittington: Every single one of them thinks that closing the Whittington A&E  is a bad idea.

The meeting with the Minister was organised by Karen Jennings, Labour parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green. Karen has raised concerns that local NHS bosses are pursuing the closure of the Whittington A&E by stealth. Her direct questions regarding the issue have so far fallen on deaf ears. Read more here. The next step will have to be a freedom of information request.

After meeting us for an hour Mike O’Brien had to leave. He didn’t want to be late for his meeting with Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn about…you’ve guessed it….the Whittington ! :)))))

Here’s Karen Jennings take on the meeting.


One Response to “Just back from meeting the Health Minister…”

  1. […] from Haringey was able to get an hour for a Whittington supporter with Mike O’Brien, and put this entertaining report up on her blog. Her interview was similarly […]

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