Posts Tagged Finsbury Health Centre

Access to health services – article for the EU Chinese Journal

It’s Chinese New Year, and I’ve been invited to contribute an article to the Chinese Shadow Parliament’s EU Chinese Journal , on the NHS and access by overseas visitors to health services. The invitation came via Chinese LibDems Chair Merlene Emerson, and is in my capacity as a Parliamentary Candidate, and also as a former Vice-Chair of Hampstead Community Health Council, and a former member of the Islington Health Partnership Board.

The article will appear translated into Chinese – this is the original version.

The NHS is always an important topic in UK elections. We Brits love our NHS and are very proud of it. But when times are tough, some commentators do ask if we should allow immigrants to register with NHS doctors and use the health service.

In my view, talking about overseas migrants placing a stress on the NHS is a dangerous distraction from the real challenges facing our public health services.

Who is entitled to use the NHS? The origins of the welfare state were set up by the Liberal government a hundred years ago, with the first state pension. The benefits then were funded by contributions made by individuals through National Insurance; that principle also applied when the NHS was first set up in the 1940s. However, for decades now, the NHS has actually been funded from general taxation, not only National Insurance. So there is no reason to limit access to health services to people making National Insurance contributions. For example, people paying consumer taxes, including VAT, are also helping fund our NHS, even if they are not British citizens.

In a civilised society, we care for those among us in need, whatever their origin. In a globalised society, we accept that people will travel the world and may need health care wherever they go.

In fact the NHS would collapse tomorrow if migrant workers were to be excluded. Around a third of NHS staff, from consultants to cleaners, were born or trained outside the UK. What hypocrites we would be to say that migrants can help run our NHS services, yet cannot use them!

The real threat to the NHS is not from immigrants. Instead it is from bad policy choices from our own government. In my own area of Islington, north London, the Accident & Emergency unit at our local hospital, the Whittington, is under threat. This is as part of a wider reorganisation of hospital services; the plan is to encourage more patients to be treated at new polyclinics, which will replace traditional family doctors’ surgeries. That is fine for routine minor surgery but not for emergencies. If you have a heart attack at work or an accident in the street, then you need an Accident & Emergency Unit as nearby as possible.

I believe that a busy borough like Islington needs a 24 hour Accident & Emergency unit. If the Whittington is downgraded, local people face travelling further in an emergency. Last week a colleague and I raced to the Whittington and the next nearest hospital, the Royal Free in Hampstead. It took 30 minutes to get to the Whittington, nearly an hour to get to the Royal Free. No wonder our campaign to save the Whittington is so popular.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Islington, the same NHS managers want to close Finsbury Health Centre. This is one of the original polyclinics, that has served its community well ever since the 1930s. It’s not surprising that local people are angry and confused.

As Liberal Democrats, we support local democratic control of our health services. At the moment, too many decisions are taken in Whitehall, with national targets imposed downwards. We believe that local communities should have more of a say in the priorities for the health services on which they depend.

We also want to protect front-line health services from cuts in this difficult economic climate. Instead, we would prefer to see a reduction in the bureaucracy and target culture; in particular we would abandon the plans for a single national health database, which seems to be more about documenting patients than treating them.

Keeping people out of hospital in the first place or reducing the length and expense of treatment by detecting serious illness sooner is also a priority for us. For example, ensuring that women have regular breast cancer screening and rapid referral where needed, is essential.

The NHS alone cannot guarantee our good health. The whole community, individuals and families have a role to play in promoting better health, through diet and active lifestyles. London has some of the worst air pollution in Europe. One of my campaign priorities is to improve air quality and help tackle respiratory diseases like COPD and asthma. And with many people in the UK suffering from the so-called ‘diseases of affluence’, such as heart disease or alcohol-related illness, we can all learn from the lifestyles of other communities among us.


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Too busy to blog… or too hot

It’s been another madly busy (and hot!) few days and I’ve struggled to find time to blog – even though there’s so much to write about.

My thoughts on government climbdowns, heatwaves, Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin will all have to wait. Possibly forever.

But I’ve not been idle. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve:
– appeared as panellist on Radio 5 Live Richard Bacon show
– supported the Save Finsbury Health Centre fundraiser
– visited the National Garden Scheme open day in Clerkenwell
– met Holloway residents to talk about recycling
– chaired Pizza & Politics event with Cory Doctorow
– appointed a new Headteacher for St Andrew’s School
– spoke at a candidates’ training day
– enjoyed the Maggie exhibition at the Cartoon Museum
– led the prayers at the service welcoming Martine Oborne to St Mary’s
– attended the Canonbury Society summer party
– led deliverer recruitment sessions
– appeared on LBC’s ‘Politicians’ Panel’
– joined the celebrations at the Jubba achievement awards
– met Lib Dem school governors
– enjoyed a social event for Lib Dems in Cally ward.

Will try and blog about at least some of these in the coming week. And today I’m dropping by my church awayday en route to joining the Lib Dem contingent at London Pride. Possibly a unique combo?

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MP’s crocodile tears for Finsbury Health Centre

Crocodile tears from Islington South & Finsbury’s MP Emily Thornberry as she adds her voice to the thousands of local people who don’t want to see Finsbury Health Centre close.

It is of course her Government’s policies that are directly responsible.

Labour are disrupting popular, well-established GPs to force through polyclinics. The PFI finance rules – Gordon Brown’s baby – apparently make it uneconomic for Islington PCT to refurbish Finsbury Health Centre (ironically one of the first polyclinics).

And instead of local democratic control of health services, we have appointed Primary Care Trust boards, who are accountable only to Whitehall.

Labour have no plans to change any of these policies. So much as Ms Thornberry may protest her love for Finsbury Health Centre, these are empty words when it’s Labour policies that are closing it.

Liberal Democrat campaigners have been clear from the start that we want Finsbury’s local health services to stay local. After all, as the recent Cripplegate report found, while health is a top concern for the area’s poorest residents, so is the sense of community.

Why does Labour force Finsbury to choose between them?

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PFI and Finsbury Health Centre

The Islington Tribune has published my letter on the problems that Gordon Brown’s PFI obsession is causing our local NHS.

Under PFI, clinics are built with private money and leased back to the NHS, which has to pay back the cost over future years. If the PFI works, money drains from the NHS to the private sector.

If the PFI collapses, the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. The Primary Care Trust says PFI rules make it impossible to keep Finsbury Health Centre in its historic building. That’s not good enough for local people.

Meanwhile, London’s primary care trusts are being forced to invest in new polyclinics. This threatens the GPs and health centres that are already working well for local people. The local NHS will not get the money to improve existing buildings, because the government wants to impose polyclinics instead. It’s crazy that we risk losing Finsbury Health Centre, a pioneering polyclinic, as a result.

This is about more than a building. It is about keeping Finsbury’s health services where local people need them.

Liberal Democrats believe that money set aside in Whitehall for new polyclinics should be given to the local NHS now. Our doctors and our community should choose how to spend it in our area.

Back in June, opposition MPs held a parliamentary debate on polyclinics. Lib Dem MPs pointed out that Labour government plans to impose polyclinics could lead to the closure of up to 1,700 GP surgeries across the country.

Despite Finsbury Health Centre being under threat, MP Emily Thornberry did not bother to speak in the debate, and she voted the motion down.

It is useless having an MP who claims to support Finsbury Health Centre when she does nothing about it in Parliament.

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Finsbury Health Centre latest

There’s growing interest in our campaign to keep Finsbury health services local.

As I blogged earlier this year, Finsbury Health Centre is under threat of closure by Islington PCT. Both the Islington Tribune and the Evening Standard have picked up on the irony of closing this health centre while promoting new polyclinics elsewhere.

The good news is that the GP clinics are set to stay local, with new buildings provided close to the existing health centre. But the wide range of other community health services are set to be dispersed across Islington – bad news for the Finsbury community who have been served by this pioneering health centre since the 1930s.

The Centre’s historic significance is one of the reasons the PCT wants to move. A listed building is a challenge for any owner, and keeping Lubetkin’s masterpiece up to scratch costs money the PCT would rather spend on health care. I certainly don’t want Finsbury residents to have less than 21st century health care. But dragging sick children or pensioners in pain to the other end of the borough won’t be an improvement.

Part of the problem is the way the Government directs funding for public services. As we’ve seen with schools and hospitals, the Government puts more value into shiny new buildings – complete with a PFI timebomb for future budgets – than on the duller but more sustainable investment in maintaining older buildings. I think Islington’s new school buildings are great: but they should be developed by the choice of the local community, not central government dictat.

And that’s the other problem. Primary Care Trusts all over the country are accountable not to their communities but to the man (or woman) in Whitehall.

Meanwhile as far as Finsbury Health Centre is concerned, the local councillors & I have these demands:
– that the GPs stay local;
– that Finsbury residents retain easy access to other community health services;
– that there is full and meaningful consultation with local people;
– and that the PCT is funded properly to provide services where they are needed.

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In and out the Eagle

We were out in Finsbury again last week – highlighting the threat to local health services from the proposed closure of Finsbury Health Centre. We ended up in the nearby Eagle pub on Farringdon Road (London’s first gastropub).

The old nursery rhyme Pop goes the weasel talks about ‘going up & down the City Road, in and out the Eagle’; but that’s a different Eagle pub, at the corner of Shepherdess Walk, just in Hackney.

In fact, there’s a bit of a bird of prey theme in the area. Also on City Road, nearly opposite the Eagle pub, there’s Eagle Dwellings. They are 19th century flats – the childhood home of music hall artist Lily Morris – now in use as supported accommodation by a local housing association.

Further up City Road are council tower-blocks, Peregrine & Kestrel Houses. A few years ago, the Council placed nesting boxes on some blocks to encourage the return of peregrines. It would have been great to have them on Kestrel or Peregrine – but neither was suitable.

However, Kestrel House is still doing its bit for the environment: from Goswell Road you get an excellent view of its new wind turbine. From the ground the turbine doesn’t look very big, but it’s actually 12m high, and now powers everything in the block from the lights, lifts and water pumps to the concierge office and CCTV. It’s a fantastic scheme – helping fight climate change and cut tenants’ energy bills at the same time.

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Guardian blog 23 July

My latest Guardian blog is now online, covering ‘Make it Happen’, Finsbury Health Centre, and the Kings Cross access campaign.

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