James Cracknell reports from a public meeting on the future of Whipps Cross
Assurances have been given that Whipps Cross University Hospital will not lose either its accident and emergency (A&E) or maternity departments.
Bosses gave the commitment in the Leytonstone hospital’s restaurant on Thursday evening, at a public meeting held to discuss how the hospital will develop over the next decade.
Although closing A&E and maternity wards was ruled out, managers did hint that new housing could be built on the site of the hospital, potentially as a way of funding new NHS facilities.
The newly-appointed Whipps Cross strategy programme director, Alastair Finney, told the meeting: “Parts of this building are 100 years old, which means they are older than the NHS itself. Whipps Cross has become a victim of haphazard planning, and every part of the NHS is under growing pressure.
“I need to reaffirm that Whipps Cross does have a future, and we are making a commitment that this future does include both A&E and maternity services. But this is an opportunity to do something different, to make the hospital a campus for health and social care that isn’t just a traditional hospital.
“We want people to think of Whipps Cross not just as a place to get healthy but as a place to keep healthy.”
Without confirming what would be added to the hospital, Alastair said: “This site is big enough to bring in other services, such as from the charity and voluntary sector, and also for affordable housing.”
Around 100 people squeezed into the restaurant at Whipps Cross to take part in a feedback session dubbed ‘the big conversation’. Facilitators encouraged those in attendance to write down suggestions and raise talking points.
Managers from Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs Whipps Cross, said views gathered from the event would be used to inform plans for the next decade. A business case for the hospital’s redevelopment is due to be drawn up next year prior to any set plans being announced.
Earlier in the evening Barts Health chief executive Alwen Williams admitted it had been a “difficult” couple of years for the hospital, referencing the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection of 2014 which found a number of serious failings and resulted in the trust being placed in ‘special measures’.
A video featuring hospital staff and patients demonstrated that the hospital had made a number of improvements since the CQC report, including a revamped dementia ward, which led outgoing managing director Fiona Smith to triumphantly declare that Whipps Cross had “got its mojo back”.
The new managing director, Mike Smeeton, said: “We have made investments in our facilities and will continue to do so.
“Our staff are clearly much happier now because our retention rate is up 30 percent and is now one of the best in London. We have more permanent posts now than we did last year, which means we can be less reliant on agency staff.”
However, the problems are far from over for Whipps Cross, with Barts Health this year posting a £134.9m deficit, the largest of any trust in the NHS. It led to the trust to being placed in ‘financial special measures’ by NHS England this past summer, in addition to the special measures being applied to its care of patients.
Residents are invited to take part in the discussion around Whipps Cross Hospital’s future. For more information and to take part: