BUILD COUNCILS OF ACTION! – Save Chase Farm Hospital meeting urged

Platform of Saturday’s packed ‘Save Chase Farm’ meeting, (L-R) consultant ANNA ATHOW, Maternity Liaison Committee member Gail McCONNELL, Ambulanceman Jonathan FOX, chair STEPHEN ARMSTRONG, Save Chase Farm councillor KIERAN McGREGOR, local GP Dr NICHOLAS P
Platform of Saturday’s packed ‘Save Chase Farm’ meeting, (L-R) consultant ANNA ATHOW, Maternity Liaison Committee member Gail McCONNELL, Ambulanceman Jonathan FOX, chair STEPHEN ARMSTRONG, Save Chase Farm councillor KIERAN McGREGOR, local GP Dr NICHOLAS P

A packed 400-strong Save Chase Farm meeting in Enfield last Saturday heard calls for Councils of Action to organise occupations to stop the closure of Chase Farm and Whipps Cross hospitals.

Speaking from the floor at the north London meeting, Bill Rogers, chairman of train drivers’ union ASLEF Chingford branch, said: ‘My branch voted for a Council of Action because Whipps Cross Hospital is on our line.

‘We had train crashes just hundreds of yards from the hospital.

‘This closure policy is a national policy.

‘At Whipps Cross they want to cut 450 jobs.

‘We have called for a Council of Action. We can stop them in their tracks, but only by action and by occupying the hospital and wards threatened with closure.

‘The government will ride roughshod over reasoned argument. Privatisation is their policy.’

Speaking from the platform, consultant surgeon Anna Athow said: ‘This government is privatising the NHS and removing consultant-led care on a vast scale.

‘Hospitals are becoming a cold site for elective work only. This opens the door for a hospital to be sold off to a private treatment centre.

‘The government is removing funding of £4bn a year from acute hospitals to transfer funding to community hospitals or polyclinics.

‘Companies like Capio, United Health and Boots will be invited to run them.

‘They will be able to do simple operations that return profits.

‘Privately run hospitals will eventually be privately owned. We are rushing towards a US-style health system.

‘The NHS was the greatest gain of the working class.

‘These rights are being taken away.

‘The NHS belongs to the people,’ she said to applause.

‘The Chase Farm campaign has been tremendous, but this government is not going to listen to the truth or justified argument,’ she added to further applause, ‘They have made up their minds.

‘We have to make up our minds to take action to stop the closure of the accident and emergency department and maternity and paediatric services.

‘Firefighters, hospital workers, postal workers, council workers, all trade unions and community groups should get together to form a Council of Action.

‘That can call strike action and if necessary organise an occupation to stop the closures.

‘And the unions must take national strike action. This government has to go.

‘If it is a choice between the NHS and Blair, I choose the NHS,’ she said to further applause.

She concluded: ‘This government must be replaced by a workers’ government that will keep public services public and nationalise them for the benefit of all.’

Enfield North Labour MP and Home Office minister Joan Ryan told the meeting she would ‘do everything in my power’ to keep Chase Farm A&E open.

She said: ‘I came in campaigning to keep the A&E open in 1997. I haven’t changed my position in 12 years. I still believe we should keep the A&E open.

‘With every breath in my body I will oppose closing the A&E, maternity and paediatric services.

‘If we all stay together, we can win this argument.

‘Chase Farm is in my constituency and there is nothing I will not do as a member of parliament and a member of the government to save them.’

She added: ‘I’ve written to Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, to make sure she hears all the arguments.’

Ryan read out the the conclusion to her letter which says that the consultation process is ‘flawed’ and calls on Hewitt ‘to halt the consultation and confirm the need for an Accident and Emergency facility at Chase Farm Hospital.’

Another speaker from the floor said ‘this is not an argument, this is a matter of life and death,’ and asked Ryan, ‘If push comes to shove will you support a Council of Action and an occupation to defend these services?’

She replied to this: ‘I won’t do anything that is illegal and I won’t ask anyone to do so.’

Platform speaker Gail McConnell, a lay member of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Maternity Liaison Committee, said: ‘My group has two principal concerns.

‘We have been trying to find out from the decision makers will the changes deliver better maternity and neo-natal services for the 200,000 women in Enfield, barnet and Haringey of child bearing age.

‘Currently, maternity services aren’t resourced to meet government policy standards.

‘So far, no one has given that commitment.

‘Secondly, there are only two options, or “scenarios”, for maternity services and neo-natal services.

‘Under the first, obstetric consultant-led services will go to Barnet, with just a few services left at Chase Farm.

‘The second is all neo-natal and maternity services would be centralised at Barnet and nothing would be left at Chase Farm.’

She added: ‘It seems that local decision makers made up their mind a long time ago that rationalisation was the only way.

‘We want to keep services local. We’re keen to encourage more local people to get involved.’

Platform speaker, Jonathan Fox, paramedic and press officer for the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel (APAP), warned: ‘Don’t be persuaded by rosy arguments, there is not a paramedic on every ambulance.

‘Also, if you close a hospital or downgrade emergency services, we can cope, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult to hold onto a coronary patient for 15 minutes.

‘But while that ambulance is on a journey, there is no ambulance to cover that black hole.’

He added: ‘We respond to more and more calls and are taking people further and further afield but it seems the results of that have not been discussed.’

Warning against US-style private health, he said: ‘I’ve worked in America in private and public hospitals in Los Angeles. The public hospitals are a lot wanting.’

Speaking from the floor, pensioner David Snell said: ‘My wife was taken ill last July – she couldn’t breathe.

‘The ambulance came in minutes and took her to Chase Farm.

‘She had two heart attacks, four or five doctors treated her for four or five hours.

‘The ambulancemen said if she had had to go to Barnet, she would have not got there in time – she would have been dead on arrival.

‘Thank you to Chase Farm for saving her life.’

APAP’s Fox continued: ‘The ambulance service provides the front end, sharp end of patients’ care.

‘But the debate doesn’t finish with time.

‘The issue is what happens when you take people elsewhere.

‘If you have more and more ambulances migrating away, you have no-one to cover them.

‘You don’t get what they call dynamic cover because they are all “dynamically covering” elsewhere.’

Floor speaker, Ginny asked: ‘Lots of public money is being spent on the leaflet they are sending out, is that legal?

‘Why are these local bureaucrats still employed?’ she added to applause.

She said: ‘Being able to go to Chase Farm saved my life.

‘If I had had to go to Barnet, I wouldn’t be here today.’

Another floor speaker asked Ryan: ‘Would you resign if the A&E and maternity closure goes through?’

Ryan replied: ‘I am concerned. As a member of government and will take this to the cabinet and even the prime minister.

‘I’m not going to hold anyone hostage. I’m going to tell my government, “do the right thing”.’

Local GP and British Medical Association divisional secretary, Dr Nicholas Pillai, speaking from the platform, told the meeting: ‘I’ve worked in the NHS because it has a staff that is dedicated.

‘Over the past 25-30 years, they have closed down a number of hospitals in the area without any thought.

‘But the problem of waiting times is still there and care is still uneven.

‘Better care proposals have become a business.

‘The reason they gave when they closed Highlands Hospital was Chase Farm would be developed to give a better service.

‘When they merged Chase Farm and Barnet, they said no service would be curtailed.

‘We are not able to see how much management costs.

‘But they are saying the A&E must be closed.

‘They are saying there will be alternative special services.’

He stressed: ‘What is relevant is care for patients.

‘If someone can’t be taken to hospital in ten minutes, that can be dangerous to that person’s life.

‘They only talk about statistics, they don’t take into account local health needs.

‘Local health need should be decided by the local community.

‘I want to see the NHS continue to provide healthcare free at the point of need.’

Diane Darwin asked from the floor: ‘Who are we fighting, the executive or the government?

‘I’ve worked at the hospital for many years and I’ve collected 1,200 signatures, yet they saw just 100 people.

‘Are we fighting the government or the executive of the hospital?’ she added to cries of ‘both!’.

Pensioner Monica Mortimer warned: ‘They have already closed four wards, there will be no hospital left by the time the consultation has finished.

‘We have to do something to stop it.’

Another floor speaker said: ‘I’m a care worker at a home for the elderly.

‘Last week we had to call an ambulance.

‘Crew at Cheshunt ambulance station said it would be disastrous if the A&E closes.

‘Joan Ryan’s former boss, Charles Clarke, when he was education secretary said Chase Farm would be rebuilt – will he keep that promise?’

Floor speaker Ray Athow said: ‘The government have put hatchet men in charge of Primary Care Trusts.

‘The PCT is moving to close your A&E.

‘They are moving to control the flow of patients to Chase Farm.

‘James Johnson, chair of the BMA said the NHS ought to be consultant-led.

‘Would Dr Pillai get all the GPs in the area to say patients will only be referred to Chase Farm and nowhere else?’

Dr Pillai replied to this: ‘Commissioning by GPs has not come to them directly.

‘The PCT has become gamekeeper and poacher.

‘Commissioning in which patients can get secondary care has not been empowered.’

Another member of the audience commented: ‘I took my petition to Downing Street in 2005.

‘If Joan Ryan is going to write to Patricia Hewitt and expect a reply, she will have a long wait – because I haven’t had mine yet!’

Another pensioner said: ‘Get rid of the management of Chase Farm – you have people power behind you.’

Stanley Carter, chairman of Enfield Pensioners Action Group added: ‘Some of what they are doing would make Aneurin Bevan turn in his grave.’

Save Chase Farm councillor Kieran McGregor said from the platform: ‘We are going to be lobbying MPs next Tuesday, 16th January and sending a delegation to meet Patricia Hewitt.

‘We are holding another march on March 3rd.

We believe the fight has just started.

‘We are willing to go all the way, even to the European Court of Justice.

‘The only viable option is to retain all front line services at Chase Farm.’

Concluding the meeting, chairman Save Chase Farm member Stephen Armstrong said: ‘We’ve heard calls for direct action, for lobbying, for petitions.

‘What has come out of this meeting is we do not want cuts in our health service.’