Whittington defenders bow out undefeated
Final meeting for hospital campaigners who fought three successful campaigns
Friday, 10th December 2021 — By Tom Foot
Flashback to 2010: The first of two protest marches organised by the coalition and the Tribune – thousands marched down the Holloway Road
NHS campaigners took a march down memory lane this week as the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition held its final meeting.
The group has fought three successful campaigns which stopped the A&E department being axed, saved the maternity unit and repelled land sales.
Thousands of people marched from Highbury Corner to the Highgate hospital in 2010 and 2013, led by the Islington Tribune battle bus.
The coalition is winding-up but its founding members say they will keep up the fight through other means.
Chairwoman Shirley Franklin said: “I think one of the reasons we have had victories when we didn’t think we had victories was that we were a broad coalition.
“It hasn’t just been us and the radical militants. We always had people from in the NHS that had spoken at the meetings. We were a coalition of newspapers. We were Labour, Lib Dem, Green, socialists and actually even some Highgate Tories as well. We had people from all over joining in.”
She added: “It does seem a bit weird that we are folding at a major time of crisis in the NHS, but we can all find ways to keep up the fight, we have to”
There was praise for the Tribune’s role in the campaigns with Ms Franklin adding: “Weren’t we so lucky to have this paper that supported us and informed us?”
There was a slide show of photos showing all the leaflets and placards made by DWHC activist and campaign banner maker Alice Kilroy, who died of cancer last year.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, one of the founders of the coalition, said: “Had we not done the campaign, had the marches, if we had not had the Tribune’s incredible journalistic work on it, the Whittington would be a cottage hospital basically. It would have no A&E – it would just be elective surgery.
“We need to be aware about the future. I don’t see anything in the budget by the secretary of state that makes me hopeful for the NHS.
“But I’ll campaign till the cows come home and beyond for an NHS free at the point of use.”
Tricia Clarke, from Islington Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), now a councillor, said: “I loved being part of the campaign, going into those board meetings. It was a riot.
“But now we have taken out a judicial review against the privatisation of the GPs, with Centene. KONP is good at that sort of thing. And we have a great organisation called Healthwatch.”
Mick Gilgunn, a union rep who also became an Islington councillor, said: “It’s an end of an era. It’s something to celebrate. It’s probably one of the most successful campaigns in Islington. I feel humbled by it.”
Founding members Jem Lindon and Valerie Lipman were also praised for their work with the group.
Several speakers paid tribute to “inspirational leader” Shirley Franklin including, in a surprise for the meeting, a message from the chief executive of the Whittington, Siobhan Harrington.
She said: “While Shirley and I have not always been completely aligned, I have always known we both love the NHS.
“I have appreciated talking to Shirley and her colleagues about our plans for the future and thank her for her dedication.”
Tribune Comment: Always ready
The Tribune’s battle bus led the protest marches
THERE was not a dry eye on Zoom this week as the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) held its “last ever” meeting.
The coalition victories felt like a rare moment when the system was working. Campaigners, helped by newspapers, heaped pressure on election-fearing politicians to great effect.
Here at the Tribune we played out part with the placards, the posters, the bus… We all took it to the streets, and won.
A functioning newspaper should be an agitator and organiser.
It should not only be used to disseminate ideas but also to bring people together.
There is no democracy in the NHS. Health chiefs’ financial decisions take place behind closed doors and are hard to scrutinise.
But the coalition, because of its campaigning over the years, was granted monthly meetings with senior managers at the hospital.
Jeremy Corbyn told a story this week about how a former Whittington chief executive had told him about an upcoming plan, but said he would have to run it past the coalition first. The group has kept the hospital’s management on the straight and narrow and also kept the public in the know for over a decade.
But now, like a heavyweight boxer, the DWHC is bowing out undefeated. Or will it?
Radicals like the coalition’s Shirley Franklin, Candy Udwin, Jem Lindon, Valerie Lipman and the late Alice Kilroy are the kind of campaigners who have protest bubbling in the blood. They come from a rare stock of people who are willing to storm into a board room, unfurl a banner and make the comfortable feel uncomfortable.
We doubt they will be ready to hang up their megaphones just yet. The NHS is under just as great a threat as it was back in 2010.
As Jeremy Corbyn told the meeting: he will go on fighting for an NHS free at the point of use until all the cows come home.
And so will we.