Another A&E in north London is under threat of closure. Earlier this year Inspectors gave North Middlesex Hospital until late August to make “significant improvements” to its A&E department after discovering that a third of patients were waiting for over four hours to be seen.
A leaked report by Health Education England found that the A&E could not meet demand and patients were at risk. It notes that one a patient lay dead for several hours before being discovered and overworked doctors routinely wept at the end of their shifts.
As I said in this week’s Parliamentary debate on the hospital, the tragedy at North Middlesex is a tragedy for patients. Who would want to hear that their relative had been dead on a trolley for four and a half hours with no one noticing?
It did not have to be like this.
The problems at North Middlesex Hospital began when the government closed the A&E ward some five miles down the road at Chase Farm Hospital, which reduced capacity of the wider Enfield and Tottenham area.
But In 2007, as leader of the opposition, David Cameron promised to save Chase Farm’s A&E.
Posing for photos with a placard that read “Hands Off Our Hospital”, he said: “The idea we should be shutting Accident and Emergency and asking people to travel further is wrong.”
When in power, he changed his tune. Cameron ignored local politicians of all parties, campaign groups and residents, who warned the government that the closure of Chase Farm would pose a public health risk, and closed the A&E in in December 2013.
With little contingency planning by this Tory government, North Middlesex Hospital was simply meant to pick up the slack.
In 2014, inspectors of North Middlesex Hospital reported that the closure of Chase Farm Hospital had “had significant impact on all the services at the trust.” This year, waiting times at the A&E were ranked the worst in the country.
As conditions fell apart, local MPs such as David Lammy MP for Tottenham and Joan Ryan MP for Enfield North, were kept in the dark by Ministers about the problems in the hospitals that served their constituents.
Thankfully, it appears that the hospital’s ‘Safer, Faster, Better’ strategy has been making headway and while A&E waiting times remain inadequate, they are heading in the right direction.
Today, on his last day, David Cameron’s legacy appears to be making a mess and then bolting for the door. His referendum campaign divided the country. His pledges to reform tax and fight poverty have failed. And now he has left north London with a public health crisis.
At a time when the government is in effect laying siege to the NHS by capping staff and cutting off finance, it is important that we remind ourselves of some fundamental truths.
The NHS is not a liability for the government but a public asset owned by us all.
If you want a functioning public health system, you have to pay for it.