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Islington Tribune - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 21 November 2008
Will our historic health centre become a wreck?

• ISLINGTON Primary Care Trust is justified in remarking that its obligation is to provide for local health needs rather than to preserve historic buildings. But I agree with S Casey that its consultation was “fraught with errors and omissions” (If health centre is sold, will surgeries be built?” November 14).
Did the PCT seek financial support from anyone besides English Heritage? Fundraising is laborious but essential to try to satisfy local people’s “choice” for a well-attended and loved building.
While touring the building I asked patients awaiting treatment their views; they expressed no dissatisfaction with the building.
Did the PCT point out to environmental health that continued insistence on, for example, replacing tiles with identical ones – now hard to find and costly – risked the building being sold off, so losing its role as a health centre, the reason for its historic significance.
If no buyer were to be found – likely because it is unsuited to other purposes – the building could remain abandoned until becoming a wreck.
Shouldn’t the present owner and user accept at least some responsibility for the maintenance and preservation of local “jewels”? I observed items of recent neglect – plaster in the hall ceiling missing, leaving a hole revealing laths; rusted metal frames to windows; chipped paint on access railings; and exterior and interior in need of repainting.
The proposed sale would involve borrowing from a private finance initiative (PFI) or Local Improvements Finance Trust (LIFT). Borrowing is a costly method of financing. Deferring interest payments to a future generation powerless to cancel the contract leaves them a heavy burden with no democratic choice.
Removal of some services to Hornsey Road would involve long bus rides for elderly and disabled people.
Islington Council, plus bodies such as English Heritage or other charities concerned with historical or artistic items, and maybe local ones such as Cripplegate, should be urged to contribute jointly to the building’s preservation and continued function as a health centre.
The council’s sell-off of Finsbury Town Hall, another listed building, to Urdang Dance was an earlier example of a decision deeply resented by the people of Finsbury and Clerkenwell.
Angela Sinclair

• Today I attended a second meeting in a fortnight regarding the reasons for abandoning Finsbury Health Centre.
This time, without the presence of health professionals, English Heritage or any architects familiar with the building and its history, the Primary Care Trust’s representative had an easier time altogether. He set in train the reasons for the intended sale of the health centre: “It was not built in the 21st century”, “The doctors’ surgeries are too small”, “The reception area too big”, “The opaque glass tiles too rare to find” and “The health centre was not built as a polyclinic”.
This sad and sorry affair is to be compared with a spanking new state-of-the-art building in Hornsey Street, next to Holloway Tube station.
Angela Sinclair remarked that the health centre could easily be incorporated into the polyclinic system (in fact, it could be the hub of an expanded service). She believed the PCT had not looked hard enough for the funding to preserve the building.
Tony Hoolaghan, of Islington Primary Care Trust, failed to say why £1.5million earmarked for maintenance had not been spent for that purpose or what happened to money put aside for a lift.
The PCT claims to have had 1,500 consultation responses to date. They do not say how many responses oppose its idea of scrapping medical care at the building.
It seems the PCT is only interested in those who tick the right boxes. Its reluctance to produce costings of the schemes it has conjured up does not leave one with much faith in its cause. Its claims that glass tiles, which are supposedly damaged, are impossible to replace and that English Heritage would insist on these being maintained before approval or any financial backing do not stand up to scrutiny.
Medieval buildings going back hundreds of years are capable of being renovated. Islington PCT must throw light on the subject of costs. It should emulate the architect of the health centre, who brought openness and light to all his work.
Andrew da Silva
Percival Street, EC1

• Thank you for highlighting the problems that Gordon Brown’s private finance initiative (PFI) obsession is causing our local NHS.
Under PFI, clinics are built with private money and leased back to the NHS, which has to pay back the cost over future years. If the PFI works, money drains from the NHS to the private sector.
If the PFI collapses, the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. The Primary Care Trust says PFI rules make it impossible to keep Finsbury Health Centre in its historic building. That’s not good enough for local people.
Meanwhile, London’s primary care trusts are being forced to invest in new polyclinics. This threatens the GPs and health centres that are already working well for local people. The local NHS will not get the money to improve existing buildings, because the government wants to impose polyclinics instead. It’s crazy that we risk losing Finsbury Health Centre, a pioneering polyclinic, as a result.
This is about more than a building. It is about keeping Finsbury’s health services where local people need them.
Liberal Democrats believe that money set aside in Whitehall for new polyclinics should be given to the local NHS now. Our doctors and our community should choose how to spend it in our area.
Back in June, opposition MPs held a parliamentary debate on polyclinics. Lib Dem MPs pointed out that Labour government plans to impose polyclinics could lead to the closure of up to 1,700 GP surgeries across the country.
Despite Finsbury Health Centre being under threat, MP Emily Thornberry did not bother to speak in the debate, and she voted the motion down.
It is useless having an MP who claims to support Finsbury Health Centre when she does nothing about it in Parliament.
Bridget Fox
Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate, Islington South and Finsbury

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Islington Tribune, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to Deadline for letters is midday Wednesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld . Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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