Last Wednesday saw a rare example of councillors uniting across the political divide to save the local accident and emergency unit. The Health Service proposal to close the unit at King Georges Hospital in Redbridge and to move the service to Romford's new Queen's Hospital has been debated for several years.
At Redbridge there is great concern about the loss of the borough's accident and emergency unit. Ambulances will take longer to get to Queen's Hospital and where accident victims are involved, time is vital. Visitors will also struggle if they don't have access to a car, as public transport to Queen's is poor in some parts of Redbridge. In some cases a two stage bus journey via Romford town centre will be unavoidable.
There is cross party opposition at Redbridge Council and on Wednesday two councillors, Bellwood and Walker, made up a delegation to Havering, urging the council to join them.
In Havering there will also be problems, because the new hospital is struggling to manage the number of patients it already serves. Lack of capacity has been an ongoing problem and there is also a shortage of visitor parking, despite the council's insistence that more places be provided when the hospital was built. Havering has many elderly people who need to use the already stretched hospital.
Furthermore, other health services have also been moved to Queen's creating more pressure on the hospital. I was surprised when my own doctor's surgery stopped taking blood samples and referred me to the hospital - being a busy person, I haven't had time to attend, and I wonder how many other patients have missed out on care in similar circumstances.
The Redbridge delegation were delighted when Havering councillors lined up to support them. I denounced the proposal as a diabolical plan that will harm the residents of both boroughs and more widely in East London and Essex. Labour leader Cllr Keith Darvill worried that the plan was risky in current circumstances. Independent Residents Association councillor Jeff Tucker pledged to leaflet his Rainham ward in support of the campaign and to bring his megaphone to any protests. Conservative Cabinet Member Cllr Robert Benham had already attended one protest march and he commended the cross party support he witnessed. Streetcare Boss Cllr Barry Tebbutt voiced his concern that the Queen's site would need substantial extra building to accommodate parking and services. Opposition Leader Cllr Clarence Barrett pledged the support of his Residents association Group.
After a passionate debate - which featured several members discussing their own experiences with the health service - the council unanimously approved the following motion:
This council agrees to oppose the withdrawal of services from King Georges Hospital to the detriment of health care for the residents of Havering, to protect and improve services at the Queen's Hospital, and requests cabinet to examine the implications of these proposals and to send a delegation of members of the council consisting of at least one representative of each political group to meet with the all party group of councillors of the London Borough of Redbridge to work with them.
A protest rally is planned for 8th April when many political leaders from both boroughs will line up to voice their opposition.