CHASE FARM FACES PRIVATISATION AND CLOSURE – Chase Farm and Barnet Trust to be dissolved on July 1st

The Clock Tower at Chase Farm  was occupied to keep the services running in February 2013
The Clock Tower at Chase Farm was occupied to keep the services running in February 2013

ENFIELD residents’ anger over further cuts at Chase Farm Hospital being kept secret are rightly justified, as Trust board letters reveal management plans to ‘dissolve’ the Trust on July 1st.

That is the date of ‘the transfer of all services, assets and liabilities’ of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust to the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

Royal Free’s ‘acquisition’ is the result of huge government financial cuts to the NHS which led to the closure of Chase Farm’s Maternity Department in November 2013 and its A&E the following month on December 9th.

The cuts left the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust (BCF) with an estimated projected deficit of £32.5million and therefore unable to become an independently run Foundation Trust by this year’s April deadline.

Following a Trust board meeting of May 9th, Interim Chief Executive Dr Tim Peachey and chairwoman Baroness Wall of New Barnet wrote to Health Secretary Hunt saying directors had ‘authorised us to sign the proposed transaction agreement’ after approving the Trust’s takeover by the Royal Free, in Hampstead.

They write: ‘The Trust’s directors believe that it has made appropriate arrangements with the NHS Trust Development Authority, commissioners and the Royal Free for the transfer of all services, assets and liabilities to the Royal Free.

‘Additionally the directors considered the outcome of consultation with Healthwatch Barnet and Healthwatch Enfield about proposed provisions for dissolution and transfer orders and with staff interests about proposed provisions for a transfer order.’

The ‘appropriate arrangements’ offered to those wishing to destroy Chase Farm have, however, not been extended to Enfield residents nor to hard-working, dedicated health workers at Chase Farm Hospital.

They are still none the wiser as to the details contained in an ‘enclosed paper’ which Trust management ‘considered’ on May 9th as the basis for changes to health services at Chase Farm and Barnet hospitals.

But even though details remain shrouded in secrecy, an April 14th letter from Healthwatch Enfield Chief Executive Lorna Reith to Dr Peachey does reveal a portent of what is to come.

Reith writes: ‘If land were sold to help fund a re-build of Chase Farm Hospital, our plan is to use the proceeds for health services on the Chase Farm Hospital site.’

It is notable that she doesn’t say these will be public NHS health services, meaning they could be privae units. Reith continues: ‘The Royal Free would provide services locally, wherever it was clinically and economically viable to do so…’

This phrase has been trotted out on countless occasions prior to cuts and hospital closures, and is worrying given the level of debt the Royal Free is taking on. Reith adds: ‘The Royal Free would pursue planning applications for the redevelopment of the Chase Farm Hospital site and keep local people and stakeholders informed about progress.’

However, keeping ‘local people’ informed’ is not how Enfield residents, pensioners and patients’ groups regard it following a public meeting of the governing body of the Enfield Clinical Commissioning Group on April 30.

At the meeting, the audience demanded to know why specific details of the takeover were not being made public, such as whether surplus land at Chase Farm would be sold off and whether the hospital was likely to be classed as ‘unprofitable’ and then closed.

Liz Wise, chief officer of the CCG, explained that the facts and figures could not be given out by the Trust as the information is ‘commercially confidential to the NHS trust development authority’.

She added: ‘That is the clear advice that we have. We cannot put any of that information into the public domain until the Secretary of State for Health has taken his decision at the end of July.’

In other words, health users will only learn of health cuts, site closure and job losses AFTER the government rubber stamp them. Health workers at Chase Farm are concerned about the hospital being ‘dissolved’ or closed, not knowing whether they will have a job as the deadline rapidly approaches.

This is clearly evident when Chair of Staff Side, RCN rep Noeleen Behan, replied on April 15 to Dr Peachey, who previously wrote that he ‘will take account of any comments and observations’ of staff about ‘the transfer order’.

Staff were ‘consulted’ about their view during a short six-week period, between 5th March 2014 and 16th April 2014 — still less than three months from the planned closure of the Trust.

The fact that staff are still clueless of the details of the order is revealed when Behan writes: ‘Dear Tim,. . . This is an example of some feedback that was received which I feel does reflect on how the communication are being managed: The piece where it says “dissolution of BCF” is quite disconcerting and I am sure this will be a major issue with staff.

‘At no time have we been told BCF will be dissolved – we were all under the impression, from our meetings etc. that it was an “acquisition” and not a takeover as such. Staff have also asked for clarity on how this acquisition will impact on the quality of patient care and the day to day provision of nursing and medical care. . .

‘The common themes that emerged from the staff feedback were concern around the impact of any potential workforce changes that may result from the acquisition.’

Behan continues: ‘There are concerns around any changes that might be made to existing terms and conditions, including being asked to travel to the Royal Free hospital for work and concerns around changes in pay dates. . .

‘There were some concerns raised about changes to services that are currently provided at Chase Farm and those being moved to the Royal Free and also concerns about future job loss… It is clear that the key to protecting the best interest of all staff will be what is outlined in the transfer order.

‘There is a need to be quite clear that the transfer orders need to be written to ensure adequate protections for staff – ensuring statutory continuity of employment and all other protections. Transfer orders (themselves) need to be consulted on and that the details of the protections are laid out to staff in individual letters. Staff were given assurances that changes cannot be made without following the required consultation process.’

Behan adds: ‘However, staff side have not been given a draft of the transfer order and while there is a clear expectation of what should be in the transfer order, without actually seeing a draft of such a document it’s difficult to know if what is outlined in the order provides the required level of protection for staff or comment on what may need to be added.’

Dr Peachey ignores staff concerns, replying: ‘I note that you have raised no explicit objection (on behalf of staff interests) to either the transfer order or the dissolution of Barnet & Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust and I will advise the Trust Board accordingly (sic).’

This, and the fact that the draft of the transfer order still ‘needs to be written’ by Department of Health lawyers, after Hunt’s approval, indicate that neither the government nor Chase Farm management have any intention of ‘consulting’ with staff or Enfield residents on planned health cuts.

Their intentions are made clear by Dr Peachey when he ‘assures’ Behan that ‘there is no proposal associated with the acquisition to change the delivery of services from either Barnet or Chase Farm Hospital sites, at least in the short-term’.

Staff don’t need ‘individual letters’ telling them if they are getting the sack or the site sold-off – they need leadership to oppose further job and health cuts.

Only an occupation of Chase Farm backed by the TUC, as consistently fought for by the North East London Council of Action, can stop the privatisation of Enfield’s health services and only a general strike to remove the Tories and bring in a workers’ government can save the NHS.