Closing this hospital will make it cheaper to save lives – but it must stay open


It started with a leaked letter. The North Central London Service and Organisation Review had drawn up a plan to improve hospital services, which meant closing the Whittington Hospital’s A&E department.

According to documents seen by the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, which were then handed to the press, the busy A&E could no longer “fulfil the role of a major acute hospital in the future”. Proposed instead was a merger with the Royal Free’s accident and emergency department, over two miles away.

Care Quality Commission

On paper, the idea makes sense. The Royal Free was rated as excellent by the latest Care Quality Commission statistics, while the Whittington only received a rating of good.

The Royal Free’s A&E department also boasts state-of-the-art technology the Whittington can only dream of, including the country’s first heart attack and stroke centres.

In effect, it targets the most common medical problems in Britain, and it targets them well. As a trauma centre, the Royal Free has the third best time in the country – at 41 minutes, compared to the UK average of 56 – to treat heart attacks.

Then there’s Lord Darzi’s NHS Next Stage Review. It discusses how specialised trauma centres save more lives than dispersed care. In other words, closing the Whittington A&E will save more lives, more cheaply, and result in a higher standard of care.

Packed meetings

So, why aren’t we celebrating the decision? Why the packed public meetings and parliamentary motions? The answer, of course is because people need this service.

Nearly 5,000 people took to the streets two weeks ago to save the Whittington. That’s many many more protesters than turned out for Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry.

It’s not just patients of the Whittington either. Talk to the doctors and nurses at the A&E and they agree – they all point out the difficulties in access to the Royal Free, with many having to travel through the narrow and winding roads of Hampstead, or the confusing one way system in Camden.

Join the protest

One doctor said: “I understand closing one of the A&Es in North Central London. UCLH, The Whittington and the Royal Free are all very close to each other, and all require 24 hour staffing by doctors with every type of speciality, from orthopaedic surgeons to dermatologists. But why have two A&Es in Camden and none in Islington?”

It started with a leaked letter. But our protests can still help change the way it ends. Join the protest petition. For Islington.

Image credit – Arron Merat