Leytonstone News

Councillors state support for end-of-life unit at rebuilt Whipps Cross Hospital

The support contrasts with statements from Barts Health NHS Trust who failed to commit to keeping a dedicated end-of-life unit at scrutiny meeting yesterday, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Whipps Cross Hospital

There is “no case” for a dedicated end-of-life care unit to not be included in the rebuild of Whipps Cross Hospital, Waltham Forest councillors say.

The Leytonstone hospital, which serves both Redbridge and Waltham Forest, will be demolished and rebuilt by 2030 as part of the government’s slow-moving New Hospitals Programme, launched in 2020.

The future of the Margaret Centre, the only end-of-life facility in Waltham Forest, has become a hotly contested issue.

Though the hospital will still offer palliative treatment, representatives from Barts Health NHS Trust, who manage Whipps Cross, could not commit to keeping a designated end-of-life unit available – despite pressure from residents and councillors.

They acknowledged that such care in the borough was poor, especially compared to neighbouring Redbridge, during a lively debate in Waltham Forest Town Hall on Tuesday (19th March).

Several issues in Waltham Forest were identified by a dedicated group of clinicians in a report put before the Whipps Cross overview and scrutiny committee.

It revealed the eleven beds in the Margaret Centre were primarily being used for acute care – short-term treatment for a condition – rather than their intended purpose.

Use of hospice beds in the borough is “low,” the clinicians said, and Whipps Cross was subsequently “moving away from solely having a dedicated ward for specialist end-of-life care”.

Going forward, they said there was the potential for providing such care in both general wards and a dedicated acute palliative care unit. Palliative care differs crucially from end-of-life care, as it focuses on symptom management in people who have a ‘life-limiting’ illness, rather than people who are near death.

They also suggested improving access to ‘hospice at home’ care in Waltham Forest, which is currently non-existent.

But while campaigners and councillors agreed with the recommendations to improve services in the borough, they were critical of the report not addressing the apparent need for the Margaret Centre.

Waltham Forest councillor Richard Sweden, chairman of the committee, said: “We haven’t heard a case for doing away with the Margaret Centre.

“What we have heard is a very compelling case for end-of-life care in the community being severely lacking.

“There is a greater need for these facilities.”

He was met with applause from the 13 residents sitting in the public gallery, several of whom had been attending these debates since 2022.

Redbridge councillor Beverley Brewer said the “anti-Margaret Centre campaign” needed to stop and insisted the threat to its existence was “taken off the table” – being met with similarly rapturous applause.

She clashed with Whipps Cross’ redevelopment director Alastair Finney, who said: “We are not disagreeing.

“End-of-life care will continue to be provided at Whipps Cross. The question is how the provision is done in the best possible way.

“There is no threat to end-of-life care.”

Cllr Sweden added, to a chorus of ‘yeses’ from attendees: “We are concerned about a designated area.

“We are trying to stop incremental changes being made that will create an inevitability of not having a dedicated unit.”

Cllr Brewer’s motions that the team provides assurances on the Margaret Centre, and that it holds off on any significant work until a final business case is approved, were accepted by the four committee members present.

As the item was drawn to a close – having overrun considerably – senior nurse Maria Pitt said the Margaret Centre was simply “not fit for purpose,’ prompting jeers from the heated public gallery.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the event, Action4Whipps campaign member Mary Burnett said their impact had been “palpable” and that Cllr Sweden’s statements had been “very strong”.

Mary had been joined by fellow activists Norma Dudley and Frances Simmons, who had both attacked the continuing uncertainty in their speeches before the debate began.

Progress on the redevelopment of Whipps Cross has been slow.

Before work on the hospital can begin, a multi-storey car park with 500 spaces must first be built.

Work is finally expected to begin in the summer and should take until summer 2025.

The redevelopment director told the committee: “It should be seen as the first phase of the hospital.

“That gives us some comfort around progress over the last couple of years.”

He added that the team hoped to put together a timeline for the rebuild of the hospital by late spring. Financial estimates have not yet been shared due to commercial confidentiality.

Cllr Brewer expressed her frustration with how long the redevelopment was taking, saying it was “regrettable” that the new hospital was still six years away.

She blamed “overpromising and under-delivering” from the central government, adding the scheme was often referred to by NHS workers as the “No Hospitals Programme”.

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