There is no doubt that the victory over the U-turns of the Labour Secretary of State for Health is very largely the result of our non-party campaign to Defend and save the Accident and Emergency, Maternity, Trauma and Paediatric Services at the Whittington Hospital, and to oppose privatisation and cuts in any other NHS hospital.
Our role was crucial for the following reasons: it was a united non-party campaign of residents, hospital workers and other trade unionists – Our Hospital, Your Jobs – and representation from other local campaigns and political parties.
Almost everyone we spoke to supported our campaign. We got at least 16,000 signatures through leafleting and talking to thousands of local people. The popularity of this campaign made it a hot election issue, where all mainstream political parties wanted to be involved – some more directly involved with us than others. The local press supported the campaign and the Islington Tribune, in particular, played a huge role in helping us to build for our march.
We organised a stunning march on 27th February, where 5,000 people demonstrated their opposition. This was the biggest local march for decades, and probably the biggest ever march for a hospital. This was also the major turning point as it got massive media coverage. We organised a public meeting to launch our forthcoming day of action and rally, on Thursday 29th April, one week before the general election. Having asked several leaders of political parties and their spokespeople to speak, only Andrew Lansley, Tory Shadow Health Minister accepted the invitation.
At this point the Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats had said that they wanted to scrap the review. Emily Thornberry is in a marginal seat. She has supported the campaign and been pressurising Andy Burnham, Labour Health Secretary, who had previously supported the PCT review. After Andrew Lansley accepted our invitation, Andy Burnham told Emily Thornberry on Tuesday 27th April that he had changed his mind, that he did not wish the A and E to close (Since then Shirley has received (on 29th April) an email from Mike O’Brien who claims that he too supports the A and E, and that the papers were only part of a discussion not proposals (a term used by Rachel Tyndall, chief Exec of the north Central London PCT).
We won because we established a mass campaign, one that was initiated by Jeremy Corbyn in Islington and later by Lynne Featherstone, in Hornsey and Wood Green, which also included hospital workers. We won because we timed it right during the election period. We won because we are cross-party, we got the right political and people. We won because we worked our guts out, we talked to loads and loads of people, had a great website, Facebook and email list and visual identity.
But this is not the end. We hope this victory isn’t an electoral gimmick. Will they stick to their promises? Who will win the election will determine what happens and what is cut next? In health terms, the cuts have already happened to the Cinderella of the Health Service, mental health.
We are considering spearheading a London-wide campaign. What’s next: On Monday 10th May we will be holding a public meeting to decide where we go, what we do next. We might be thinking about leading a London-wide campaign. Please join us at the Whittington Community Centre, Yerbury Road, N19 at 7.00 pm
Chair of the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition
Addendum from Dave Plummer:
With perfectly bad timing my PC was struck by a virus over the weekend, hence the lack of updates and emails etc. Sorry about that. I’ve sorted it out now and will be updating the site over the next few days with links to press articles, TV coverage etc.