‘DO WHATEVER IT TAKES’ – to save the Whittington, say demonstrators

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MOTORISTS and shopkeepers showed their enthusiastic support and passers by joined in, as the march to save Whittington Hospital went through Holloway in north London on Saturday.

The size of the march grew to up to 2,000 people as it made its way along Holloway Road to a rally outside the hospital.

Chants of ‘Save our A&E!’ rang out from hundreds of people holding placards opposing the closure of the Accident and Emergency unit.

And midwives from the closure-threatened Whittington maternity unit were at the front of the march with their banner.

They marched alongside the main banner that was held by UNISON Head of Health Karen Jennings and a clutch of local MPs, including Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Frank Dobson, and Liberal Democrat Lynn Featherstone.

In front of them was a big red bus sponsored with a giant banner that read: ‘Save Our Whittington’.

Lots of people joined in with a contingent from the North-East London Council of Action, who kept up shouts of: ‘Occupy Whittington – stop the closures!’, ‘No polyclinics – kick out the privateers!’ and ‘Occupy to stop the closures – defend the NHS!’

Among the banners on the march were: North-East London Council of Action, Save Chase Farm Hospital, Haringey Federation of Residents’ Associations, Keep Lambeth and Southwark NHS Public, UNISON Greater London, London Met University UCU, UCH UNISON, Camden Trades Council, Barnet UNISON, Camden and Islington Community Health UNISON, Day-Mer – No to Cuts in Public Services, Haringey Solidarity Group and Age Concern.

In a brazen effort to win votes at the general election, Tories, Liberals and Labour Party contingents all took part.

The Higher Education Minister and Tottenham MP David Lammy was at the front of the march and was invited by march organisers to speak at the rally.

But he was booed by many in the crowd over his role in pushing through the government’s cuts to universities, including the savage cuts taking place at nearby London Met University.

UCU members handed out leaflets for a London-wide march to Downing Street on Saturday March 20 to defend further, higher and adult education and there were calls at the rally to join the national march to defend the Welfare State in London on April 10.

As Saturday’s march assembled in Highbury Fields, Dolly Mace, who had come from Southwark in south London, told News Line: ‘They closed Guy’s Hospital A&E and I think it should be reopened.’

‘Lives will be lost,’ she warned.

Adan Lebin and Mohamed Hassan, members of Hounslow Young Socialists in west London, said: ‘We’re here to defend the NHS. They should leave it alone, stop closing hospitals!’

‘The fight needs to be stepped up,’ said Brian Rae, a local resident from Kentish Town.

Maureen Giles, an Enfield resident, who came down with the North-East London Council of Action, said: ‘It can’t go on like this. We’ve got to have the hospitals, haven’t we?

‘We don’t yet know when the election is going to be, but we’ve got to do everything we can, right from now.

‘We are fighting for the NHS, for everybody, so it’s up to everybody to help: if they want to keep their hospitals, they’ve got to fight for them.’

Carmel Mulligan and Terri Wogan-Webb, members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) at Whittington, and their colleagues arrived with their banner.

‘It seems that the Maternity Department is threatened with closure,’ they said.

‘It’s the only maternity service in Haringey and Islington and we provide a very specific maternity service at Whittington.

‘We will be going on the march on April 10 to defend the NHS and the Welfare State. We need to work together in all the unions to save the NHS.’

Austin Hardy, PCS assistant branch secretary at the Office of the Public Guardian at Archway Tower, said: ‘The main reason I’m here is because we’re being threatened with compulsory relocation to the West Midlands and they want to turn our service into call centres, which would be disastrous.

‘It’s a very similar situation to what is happening to the NHS.

‘There has to be all-out action now by the trade union movement before the election to defend public services.’

Parent Steve Burdekin said: ‘We don’t have any A&E departments in Haringey at all.

‘Everyone will have to travel extra miles to get to a hospital and these extra miles are going to cost thousasnds of lives.

‘Everything is threatened – A&E, the Maternity department – and the maternity is a brand new building, which is less than five years old.

‘At all costs we must keep Whittington open – occupation, general strikes – closing it is not an option.’

Stuart and James Balchin, from Holloway, also spoke out.

‘I agree we should occupy. We have to do everything in our power to keep it open,’ said James.

‘Why should we waste money on all these wars?’ Stuart asked.

They said the money used ‘to bail out the bankers and send troops to these immoral wars’ should be used to bail out the NHS instead.

Robert Laurie, secretary of Camden Trades Council, said: ‘We also marched against the cuts at London Met. We want action by the whole trade union movement and trades councils to stop these hospital closures.’

Cliff Snaith, London regional secretary of the UCU and London Met UCU secretary, said: ‘We’re a community university. Most of our staff and students come from round here and Whittington A&E is absolutely vital.

‘Our students occupied part of London Met last year against cuts and if they try to close Whittington it should be occupied as well.’

Janet Maiden, UCH UNISON branch chair, said: ‘They shouldn’t close any casualty, anywhere. This is only the start of things to come.

‘UCH can’t accommodate all the casualties that should go to Whittington.

‘If you don’t have a casualty then you’re not admitting patients, so the whole hospital’s survival is at stake.’

Anne Harris, UNISON branch secretary at Whittington Hospital, said: ‘The north London reconfiguration plans will mean the closure of Haringey and Islington’s local District General Hospital and its replacement by polysystems, which will downgrade the health care for people in north London.

‘It’s part of the plan which Margaret Thatcher started to send people who need care back into “the community’’, where they will be left in an untested system which hasn’t been assessed.

‘The BMA are behind us. These plans are chaotic, ill-advised and ill-thought out.

‘They are already chopping away at our services. The stroke service is to due to be decommissioned in April.’

As the march continued to Whittington Hospital many people showed their support.

Fred was outside the Paradise Cafe holding a placard and said: ‘This is for everyone. We have family as well. We have to keep the Whittington.’

Tony Anthrobus, Unite (T&G) branch secretary at King’s College Hospital, in south London, was with a contingent carrying Unite union flags.

He said: ‘I feel this is just the beginning of other closures that could happen around the country.

‘I think it’s very important that the unions take action and it’s a pity we haven’t taken action before, but it’s not too late.

‘I think we have to do whatever it takes to keep the hospitals open.’

Student Sophia Francis, 19, said: ‘I live just down the road and I think closing Whittington is very wrong.

‘Shutting it is going to throw people out of jobs and if it goes into private health care, people are not gloing to be able to afford the treatment they need.’

Speakers at the rally that followed included: Barbara Jackson (Finsbury Health Centre), Sean Vernell (UCU), Janet Maiden (UCH Hospital UNISON), Dr Wendy Savage (Keep Our NHS Public), Karen Jennings (UNISON Head of Health), David Webb (chair of staff side, Whittington Hospital UNISON), David Lammy MP (Higher Education Minister), Alistair Smith (Islington NUT), Kate Wilkinson (Save Chase Farm Councillor), Frank Dobson MP (ex-Health Secretary), Austin Harney (PCS), Paul Brunden (Pemberton Bus Garage) and Jeremy Corbyn MP.