Fight for our local hospitals – or we’ll lose the human touch

At the end of last year I felt a bit tired. I’d been working hard, looking after the kids and doing a lot of political stuff on top of it. I felt I was spreading myself too thin – something had to give and the politics seemed the obvious choice.

But sadly, in the world we live in at the moment, we don’t really have a choice. I’ve said many, many times that the personal is political. And reading this story in my local paper – the selling off of half my local hospital – has made me determined to get out there and get campaigning again.

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel to the Whittington Hospital, based about a mile from my home in Archway, North London. It’s not big and flash like UCH or St Thomas’s; it’s a real community hospital that responds to the needs of the people who live nearby.

I first grew to love the Whittington back in 2004, when I became pregnant with child no.1. I went to the hospital because I had received rather dubious treatment after a miscarriage at a well known Central London hospital. The Whittington seemed like a good bet because it was within walking distance and I soon grew to love this slightly shabby but very friendly hospital on Highgate Hill, just up the road from the slightly shabby monument to Dick Whittington’s cat.

Child no.1 was born by emergency C-section in May 2005 – a whopping 9lb 7oz – and at the time I was impressed by the speed that the staff reacted when they decided it was time to get me into theatre. The hospital has a great reputation for its maternity unit and I genuinely think it is justified. Which makes the plans to ‘cap’ the number of births at 4,000 particularly insane.

My other 2 were also born at the Whit – in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Child 3 was born premature – I was rushed to hospital after a haemorrhage in the middle of the night and he was delivered the following day by Caesarian. I remember feeling so relieved that I’d chosen a local hospital – imagine if I’d had to travel across London in this state. The Whittington is 5 minutes drive from my house and I remember the ambulance crew remarking on how sensible I’d been for choosing a local hospital.

If the planned sell off goes ahead then other people in my community won’t be able to make this choice. Isn’t the whole idea of ‘choice’ a mantra for the right? Choice if you can pay, maybe.

I also love the Whittington because I had some trouble conceiving child number 2, born 4 years ago next week.

I was a relatively mature mother – life happens while you’re making other plans – and these things can take time when you’re not in the first flush of youth.

I’d heard from a few friends of mine that the Whittington was a good place for assisted conception so off I went. I was given IUI (artificial insemination) FOR FREE – this can cost hundreds in a private clinic, despite being over 35 (I was 37). The consultant, Mr Lieberman, was one of the nicest people I have ever met, while I have only praise for Yvonne and Hazel at the Women’s Health Unit. They were so kind and supportive during a very difficult time – thank you.

Yvonne and Hazel were also incredibly supportive when I miscarried in August 2010 (just before my 40th birthday) and then became pregnant shortly after with child no.3. I used to joke with them that I deserved a Whittington Hospital loyalty card!

As I’ve already said, child no.3′s birth was quite complicated, so I spent over a week in the Whittington, in one of the post natal wards destined for closure. The front of the hospital is close to the grimy Archway roundabout, but the back of the hospital is quiet and leafy, backing on to some very expensive real estate. I remember remarking how much money I reckoned the place was worth and how it wouldn’t be long before developers got their hands on it.

Sadly I was right. Not the whole hospital – yet – but a huge chunk of it. Enough to weaken it and make it a less attractive place for staff and patients. A slow death rather than a sudden execution.

But there is hope. The Whittington was under attack in 2010 and a local campaign group – combined with a huge campaign in the Camden New Journal and Islington Tribune newspapers – put a stop to it.

Yes, it was in the dying days of the New Labour government so times weren’t as grim as they are today. Which means that all over the country, whenever something like this happens, we have to fight just that little bit harder. So great local hospitals stay open for people like me, people like you.

Come on – what are we waiting for!