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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 6 February 2009

George Durack
Just what the (spin) doctor ordered?

Anger over health chiefs’ plan to splash out £70,000 a year on ‘brand guardian’ PR boss

ISLINGTON health chiefs have come under fire over plans to appoint a “spin doctor” on a salary of up to £70,000.
The controversial “head of communications and engagement” will be paid the equivalent of more than two senior nurses (up to £30,000 each), will lead a “newly expanding communications team” and is expected to become the “brand guardian” of Islington NHS.
The Tribune revealed last week that, despite fierce opposition, officials intend to bulldoze the popular Finsbury Health Centre because they can’t afford the upkeep on the landmark building.
Professor Wendy ­Savage, an Islington ­resident and co-chairwoman of the pressure group Save Our NHS, said it was a prime example of how the government is forcing the health service to operate as a business.
She added: “It isn’t a business, it’s a service. We don’t need a brand guardian at that sort of salary. All the local health service needs to do is listen to what the patients want.
“The priorities are all wrong. For example, people want to keep the Finsbury Health Centre, but local health officials don’t appear to be listening.”
Tim Newark, from Islington’s Taxpayers Alliance, described the new post as “extravagant” at a time when cuts are being made in other areas.
“That money should be used for frontline health services and not for non-essential support and PR,” he added.
“I’m very angry about this ridiculous post. In the private sector we are all taking 20 to 30 per cent cuts on what we are earning and yet the government just seems to go on handing out money for NHS bureaucrats. How long can it keep doing it? It’s just not appropriate for these times.”
George Durack, chairman of Islington’s Pensioners Forum, said he was astounded by the post which was advertised in last week’s Guardian Media section.
“This is really crazy,” said Mr Durack, a former Islington Labour councillor.
“There’s already a scandal with the amount of money officers on Islington Council are paid.
“Instead of throwing money at a PR job, the NHS should try and improve the services. I was in the Whittington Hospital recently and I saw first hand how the nurses struggled to cope.
“There are never enough nurses, but I’m sure there are plenty of highly paid spin doctors.
“When I was in a ward there were often patients begging for help, but there were ­never enough staff to deal with them.
“Nurses seem to be doing at least three jobs at once.”
Islington Primary Care Trust was forced to make cuts in mental health services last year after the government reduced its funding by £11million.
And four new health centres that were due to be built as part of the Arsenal Football Club stadium development have been mothballed because of lack of cash.
Dr Jane Roberts, the former leader of Camden Council and now the PCT’s Director of Quality and Performance, defended the ­position.
She said: “It is not a slick PR job, but much more wide-ranging. In terms of commissioning health services it’s increasingly important that we understand, in a much more nuanced way, what patients and public in Islington want and what their experience is.
“The person appointed to this job will try and understand the needs of the different communities in the borough and to feed this into plans for the future of the NHS.”

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