During the recent election campaign, one of the most important local issues, here in Finchley and Golders Green constituency, was the scandalous state of affairs regarding the continuing under use of Finchley Memorial Hospital.
The current hospital buildings are new: officially opened in 2013, built with funding allocated by a Labour government - but four years later, local residents are still waiting for the new hospital to be fully operational. At least half the building appears to be empty: one ward has never been used at all, and any visitor attending appointments on the lower level can see that even that space is underused.
All this, while Barnet residents find it harder and harder to gain access to healthcare, with unprecedented lengths of waiting times for treatments, and extreme difficulty in obtaining appointments with GPs.
Updated: in case any residents are unaware, there have recently been devastating proposals made to cut our local healthcare services even further, as detailed in this article in the Guardian, which includes some truly terrifying possibilities:
- A £2m cut to the financial support given to patients with serious, long-term medical problems and disabilities under the Continuing Healthcare scheme, including people with brain damage.
- Unspecified new limits to treatment for patients with back pain and other musculo-skeletal conditions on top of the “ambitious reductions in MSK activity” already occurring this year.
- NHS trusts putting less money into the Better Care Fund, the flagship government scheme designed to relieve pressure on hospitals by avoid unnecessary overnight stays by providing better social care support for mainly older people.
- Job losses in the 10 trusts as a result of a planned “reduction in admin costs”.
- The Royal College of Surgeons said the cuts could have a “devastating” impact on patients and would cost more in the long run.
Another article published yesterday suggests the extent of the cuts will be less extreme than first envisaged, due to the horrified reaction to the plans: but cuts will go ahead none the less. The classic trick: announce cuts that are beyond all contemplation, then backtrack slightly, to make the swinging of your axe look less violent.
As someone who has been affected by the 'ambitious reductions in MSK activity already occurring', and also with a family member whose vital treatment was stopped on the grounds of cost by accountants at the Royal Free, until, predictably, they became seriously unwell again, I cannot even begin to contemplate the impact of these further cuts. How fortunate that this announcement came out only days after the election. Remember this, when the next election comes along.
Why is Finchley Memorial allowed to remain unused? Ask the CCG, maybe. But you won't get a straight answer. The truth appears to be protracted arguments over 'management costs', and rent levels: the sort of nonsense you might expect from an NHS transformed into nothing less than an exercise in marketing and profit making.
During the election campaign, Finchley and Golders Green Labour candidate Jeremy Newmark tried to establish what exactly, was happening. At a hustings event, Tory MP Mike Freer had claimed that GP contracts were 'about to be signed'. Mr Newmark however, at a rally outside the hospital days later that he had been told, in an interview with the Chair of the CCG, that not only was this not the case, in the 're-imagining' (no, not the 'Re' imagining) of the hospital, there may be no GPs based there at all.
The failure to use Finchley Memorial Hospital as it was intended - to provide an efficient level of healthcare for the people of this area - is absolutely inexcusable. There should, in the view of Mrs Angry, and many residents, be an immediate, independent investigation into the whole issue, and in particular the role of the CCG in allowing this impasse to continue.
For the time being, however, the hospital, a great white elephant of a building squats at the end of a very long approach, one that makes the already difficult journey to treatment even longer, and which has still not been addressed by the promised provision of a bus to improve access for patients.
The reason given for the refusal to provide a bus is that there is, despite the vast expanse of greenfield in front of the hospital, no room for a bus stop. Odd, when, as someone observed to Mrs Angry, the green expanse is so huge, you could probably land a jumbo jet there, if needed. And why was the hospital place at one end, anyway, so far from the road?
This field of green, which begins at the entrance in Granville Road, you observe, on the long trek to the hospital entrance, and was once the site of a hamlet, on Finchley Common - where, as a couple of plaques remind us, the clown Grimaldi lived, and Charles Dickens once stayed, while writing 'Martin Chuzzlewit - is curiously underused. No planting. Just a vast expanse of grass, a preponderance of dogshit, and a few seats around the perimeter.
Hang on: weren't there meant to be community facilities here, Mrs Angry - as part of the planning approval? With funds set aside for such?
Yes. Yes, there were. Sports and play facilities for local residents: it was meant to be a landscaped, open community space, accessible to the general public, a “Communal Green,” with a children’s play area, adult fitness equipment, picnic tables, table tennis tables, and so on ...
Wondering why they have never been installed? Not Mrs Angry, who has predicted to anyone that will listen that the whole area is secretly intended for some far more lucrative venture. And she was right. Read on.
Many residents have been rather cross about the non appearance of these community facilities: and one of them has made enquiries about this, over the last year, which were ignored, until a complaint, and a Freedom of Information request resulted in the release of some very, very interesting documents: scroll through these, now in the public domain, reading from the bottom up for chronological order.
Here we have a series of emails, beginning in May, regarding a plot to use the green space at Finchley Memorial Hospital for ... oh: for yet another housing development.
There can never be too many housing developments, in Broken Barnet, as we know. Especially in the age of Capita.
And yes, Capita is well aware of this plan, is part of it, as you will see from the emails. Also involved are Barnet council's senior commissioning team - and the Chief Executive, John Hooton. Clearly there has been much discussion, on the quiet, between interested parties, such as Barnet, Capita, and different NHS bodies, locally and on a grander scale, including a representative of the CHP - Community Health Partnership, which is responsible for Barnet CCG - in regard to this proposal.
In order to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later, it seems, a threat of enforcement of the long forgotten community facilities is used: as put in the email from a Capita officer on May 16th suggests in regard to the development plans for Finchley Memorial, and also Marie Foster:
'Enforcement action here would focus their minds on this matter ...'
An extraordinary remark, by any standard.
Bearing in mind the current level of controversy in Barnet over the increasing dissatisfaction by residents with the standard and level of Capita's enforcement service - or rather the perceived lack of it - it is quite incredible to see senior officers using their power to co-opt this process for the benefit of other, quite distinctive, strategic aims.
In the same email the officer refers to a meeting of 'OPE' - presumably the local representation of the One Public Estate Programme - held in the previous week, in which Barnet's Chief Executive, John Hooton, is reported to have pushed for action in regard to the development plans for the hospital's grounds:
You will note that any need to address the protracted lack of provision of adequate healthcare facilities in this underused hospital comes a poor second to the exciting development opportunities of the surrounding 'community space'.
There are also references in these emails to another NHS asset: the former Marie Foster centre in Wood Street, Barnet - an attractive conservation area with some very valuable properties. This centre was built to provide long term care for patients with neurological conditions: it was closed in 2011, and then taken over by NHS Property Services, in 2013. At the time it was identified that there was still a need to retain some healthcare services at this site, even if some of it was developed for housing.
Little hope of that now, one would imagine, when so much opportunity for profit is on offer.
Well, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking: what does it matter, in the end? Won't the sale of the land at Finchley Memorial, and Marie Foster, generate lots of money for our cash strapped NHS?
Isn't that a good thing?
Won't the people of Barnet benefit, as a result?
Well: no. There is no guarantee of that, as far as I can see. Although the Naylor Review, which was published in March, proposes that the government could fund NHS 'reforms' by flogging off land and buildings argued to be 'surplus to requirement', it seems any funding benefit might be dependent on specific local compliance with this policy. But that is in the future, anyway.
The recent article in the Guardian exposing new plans to so drastically cut our local healthcare provision also presents the following possibility: that the viability of smaller hospitals in the area could be under threat. Would that include Finchley Memorial, which is so evidently under-occupied: or do they plan to shut another hospital and move its services here? No net gain to us, if they do: no benefit in terms of improved services, only more demand on fewer resources.
In regard to the secret plans here in Barnet now, it would seem that, as things stand, any money resulting from sale of land would return to government - whether or not it can be ring fenced for the NHS, let alone locally, or to support any frontline services, is one of many questions.
Questions, incidentally, that no one at NHS Property Services wanted to answer, when I rang up today.
Draw your own conclusions.
Yes, but, Mrs Angry: more housing can only be a good thing, can't it?
No. Not falling for that one, either.
We all know that there is a housing crisis. But the developments encouraged and approved by Barnet Council, from a political point of view, as well as practically, through its privatised planning service, are always for properties that are way beyond the means of those who are most urgently in need of housing. Luxury developments, bought in cash, off plan, by overseas buyers: that is the way almost all developments end. If agreement is made over a token level of affordable units: well, the official definition of 'affordable' simply isn't, for most people - and as we have seen most recently in the Battersea development, as well as locally, any such requirement can so easily be reduced, once the project is underway.
Be in no doubt: whatever is planned for Finchley Memorial and Marie Foster - and wouldn't it be interesting to know which developers are already sniffing around these sites? ... will not be approved on the basis of what best suits the residents of this borough, but by what is favoured by our politicians, and their contracted planning advisers.
The community space at Finchley Memorial was always doomed. There is no possibility whatsoever that it would be allowed to remain for the benefit of the community, in a borough where every piece of land, every green space, now, Green Belt, or even parks, are at risk of being offered up, by our Tory councillors and their lackeys, for the profiteering pleasure of predatory developers.
Profit before people, always - this is the guiding principle of Broken Barnet.
Had you forgotten?