Now some of you may feel that the coming together of British and German soldiers in World War One a tad more impressive - and maybe you have a point. But the fact is I honestly never thought I would see the likes of Nick Botterill, newly elected Leader of our Council, sitting next to Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the Labour Opposition and paying compliments to each other throughout. Nor did I think that I'd see Andy Slaughter MP, former Leader of the Council, receive a polite hearing from the gathered Conservative throng. Well, I didn't actually, having arrived late - but it happened nonetheless, with Andy talking in conciliatory tones about the council's campaign, and praising them for what they have done so far by all accounts.
But they all - Council, Opposition and MP - deserve real credit for putting aside their often visceral differences to come together in defence of vital local health services which are now under very real threat. The campaign now stands a real chance of success as a result.
Tonight's meeting was called by Cllr Markus Ginn, newly elevated Cabinet Member for Community Care, and he impressed. At a well attended meeting, despite it not having been well advertised, Mr Ginn set out the unified campaign and heard back from other people about their ideas.
Illustrating that the campaign involves people from all sections of the community, we heard from an NHS consultant who pointed out, in detail, that the loss of an A&E service inevitably leads to the loss of a hospital as a whole. That is because of the way in which acute and non acute services are organised, commissioned and paid for. It was a stark assessment from someone who understood the NHS possibly more than those promoting the proposed changes in the first place.
We also heard from residents group chairs, PR consultants, charity workers, business people and very many others who all brought their own perspectives on what the proposed loss of critical health services would mean for some of the most vulnerable - and voiceless - among us.
Uniting them all was a real sense of anger bordering on outrage at the duplicity of how the NHS seems to be going about forcing these changes through. Who, in the local community they asked, had either the time or the qualifications necessary to read and understand a 50 plus page "consultation" document that was full of leading questions, medical jargon and technical terminology? One man who had managed to plough his way through pointed out that there were contradictory numbers in there, such as the number of available beds at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, for the moment safe from the axe.
Another lady, who I strongly suspect was a Headmistress before she retired, recalled that one of the leading questions in the "consultation" document was along the lines of "do you want better hospitals". "They might as well ask us if we'd prefer awfully not to be shot", she said. I wouldn't have wanted to be in front of her if I'd been the author.
But the point is the "consultation" is a farce, apparently designed in order to make a sweeping change that may cost lives in a way that excludes the vast majority of people concerned. The group agreed to produce a two pager, translating into plain English what the changes would actually mean for people as a first step.
This was a group of people who'd never met each other in some cases, and may not have agreed with each other on many things, but the fact that all of our local politicians are now pursuing a single campaign, with a single agenda is not something the NHS managers wanting to make these cuts will be glad to learn of.
They've already indicated that they won't listen to what people tell them anyway with a leading figure in the changes dismissing the idea of petitions - now is the time to take that choice away from them.
But to do so there is going to need to be real co-ordination. There are two elements to the campaign - on the one had doing the job that the NHS managers have intentionally failed to do which is explaining what they mean to the public. That is a public campaign to raise awareness and generate involvement, in the form of petitions, posters and the like. The second is a forensic and detailed analysis of the NHS's case for closing these hospitals by gutting them of their A&Es, with the inevitable consequences spelled out for us in tonight's meeting by the NHS Consultant. And the two parts of the campaign will need to be in tandem to have best impact - so at some point I would think a core co-ordinating group needs to be formed. But that's for the weeks to come; the main point of this evening was to bring people together, hear their views and gauge their enthusiasm for the fight.
At the end of the meeting Cllr Ginn asked for volunteers - he wasn't short of them. And the fun starts with a street stall outside the Lyric on King Street this Saturday at 11am. Be there.
|Save H&F Hospitals Committee|
This really isn't helpful from Andy. At all. Did he really expect Conservative MPs to vote against their Government on the basis of a Labour Party motion that wouldn't actually change anything even if it was passed? Er, no. He didn't - this was about scoring points. And it's the sort of divisive politics that we could do without as we try to get the campaign going.