by New Worker correspondent
THOUSANDS of people braved the cold and wet weather last Saturday in north London to take part in a protest march against plans to close the accident and emergency (A&E) unit and the maternity unit at the Whittington Hospital in Archway.
The marchers, who included doctors, nurses and other health workers as well as thousands of local residents, was accompanied by the double-decker Ham&High (Hampstead and Highgate local newspaper) bus with a big white banner draped across it.
It was a great help to many of the elderly and less mobile local residents who wanted to join the protest to defend their local hospital but would have had great difficulty with the two-mile march from Highbury Corner ending in a steep hill to the hospital in Magdala Avenue – skirting Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx lies sleeping.
Campaigners from the Defend the Whittington Coalition shouted “no cuts, no closures” from loudspeakers on the bus as people joined in the chant from the road.
Ham&High editor-in-chief Geoff Martin, who launched the newspaper’s campaign Hands off our Whittington, also took to the loudspeaker on the top deck, chanting “hospitals are for people, not for profit” to cheers from children, parents and the elderly who had boarded the bus for the march.
Linda Peanberg King, whose seven-week-old baby son, Axel, died at the Whittington after being repeatedly turned away by the hospital’s out of hours care provider Harmoni PLC, joined the protest on the bus with her husband, Alistair, and their three-year-old son, Carl.
She said: “We have nothing but good things to say about the Whittington. Both my sons were born there, but it just so happened that one died there. They tried to do everything they could to save him; it was with Harmoni that there is a problem.
“The Whittington serves a big community and it’s a good hospital. I am against privatisation of the NHS and that is why I am campaigning.”
Angela Sinclair, 92, joined the Ham&High bus with her daughter. The former hospital social care worker, who has been going to the Whittington for more than 30 years, has been campaigning against threats to the NHS for decades.
She said: “The hospital has done this without public consultation. It’s ridiculous. You can’t do something of public interest without consultation.
“I have always had good treatment at the Whittington though nursing isn’t what it used to be – this is one example of many. The NHS is one of the most important institutions and we have to defend it.”
The health unions were out in force, including members of the GMB who are very worried about the plans to close the Accident and Emergency Service, maternity beds and elderly care beds, as they have depended on them for their lives.
George Sharkey, Islington Haringey GMB Branch Secretary said: “The hospital will cease to exist in its current form if the plans to cut 500 staff and 60 beds go ahead.
“Many of my GMB branch members are very worried about the plans to close the Accident and Emergency Service, maternity beds and elderly care beds, as they have depended on them for their lives.
“When ordinary GMB members said we need to do something to support the campaign to save the Whittington I agreed that we needed to be there to support our members and the community. I’m proud to be marching along with other GMB members and residents in the community.”