EXCLUSIVE: Unite official calls for “direct action” to save Whittington Hospital, after huge public meeting
By John Millington
ISLINGTON local residents have been urged to launch a campaign of direct action including occupations to save Whittington hospital, the Dreadnaught has learnt.
Unite South Eastern Regional secretary Peter Kavanagh made the call following a packed Save the Whittington hospital public meeting in Islington last night.
The Board of the Whittington NHS Trust took the decision to sell off £17 million of hospital buildings, including the closure of three wards, halving patient beds to 177 and axing 570 jobs, up to 200 of them nurses.
The announcement came in a low key meeting last month, without the knowledge of local MPs or residents.
Following Camden Journal reporter Tom Foot’s exposé of the plans, angry residents vowed to resist the move at the meeting last night and to march through the city next month, calling on celebrities and others to join their campaign.
However Mr Kavanagh – a local resident and experienced trade unionist, insisted that people would have to be prepared to take more “imaginative action” to secure the hospital’s future.
Speaking exclusively to the Dreadnaught he said: “The meeting tonight shows us that there is enormous potential to mobilise people to the save the hospital.”
“Tonight was a great start but what was missing was a real strategy and a real plan.”
“While the community is critical, the trade unions have got to start thinking seriously about taking some form of direct action.”
“It is always difficult in the health service, the nature of the work but we need to be imaginative.”
“We should be looking at occupations and work-in’s.”
Asked how feasible such a campaign was, Mr Kavanagh said a consultative ballot had found that members in the health service had “totally rejected” changes to the Agenda for Change, where NHS employers backed by government, are accused of driving down pay and conditions.
“The NHS is the one thing that unites us all,” he said.
“Unite is committed to any form of civil disobedience that is about defending our jobs, defending our services and our communities.”
The strong comments follow a barrage of support for the Save Whittington Hospital campaign including local Labour MP’s Jeremy Corbyn, David Lammy, Frank Dobson and left wing author Owen Jones.
Speaking to the 500 strong meeting, Mr Dobson warned that the sell off could lead to private health insurers picking up the empty space adding: “Whose going to buy the land that is being sold off? Some thieving rotten American health corporation?”
“We’ve got to keep up the fight.”