Barnet is in the news again for the wrong reasons as angry residents of East Barnet and New Barnet demand answers as to why their much-valued local health centre is still closed and boarded up almost five months after it was supposed to re-open following work to remove asbestos. East Barnet Labour councillor Philip Cohen has written to NHS estate managers demanding to know how long this appalling state of affairs will go on.
Mothers with small children, older users of the service and other concerned residents this week (Wednesday 21 January) protested outside the building in East Barnet Road and have set up a Facebook group "East Barnet Health Centre: Come Home" to provide a platform for their views and put pressure on the authorities.
East Barnet’s three Labour councillors Philip Cohen, Rebecca Challice and Laurie Williams were there in person to give their support along with Labour’s general election candidate for Chipping Barnet and Underhill councillor Amy Trevethan, who is raising the issue at the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Patients have been forced to go a mile and a 20-minute bus drive away to Vale Drive clinic in High Barnet for treatment, but they are struggling to get appointments because the clinic’s phone system is overloaded due to the strain of the extra calls.
Rumours have spread that there are plans to sell off the site to developers, although this is denied by the owners NHS Property Services, who say the work damaged the inside of the centre and they are now considering whether to totally refurbish or put up a new building altogether.
Cllr Cohen has written to them asking why there has been no work taking place at the centre for months, how long will any new work last, what happens to patients in the meantime and will they assure people there are no sell-off plans.
‘It’s just not good enough to keep people who love their local health centre in the dark about its future. This is causing real anxiety and hardship,‘ he said.
Local resident Helen Pryce who started the Facebook group said, ‘It seems absurd that in this day and age, in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, you are not within reasonable walking distance of your GP. It is also remarkable that an organisation such as NHS Property Services appear to be dragging their heels and keeping users in the dark.’
Cllr Amy Trevethan said: ‘Frail and elderly patients and young children need a GP centre that is local and accessible. Patients I spoke to couldn’t get through via the phone system, and some have had to travel to hospital facilities for medical attention.
‘Nationally, we know that 1 in 4 patients now have to wait a week or more for a GP appointment, whilst 1 in 4 walk-in health centres have been closed under the Conservative-led government. The delay at the East Barnet health centre is compounding these pressures in Barnet – is it any wonder there is increasing pressure on A&E?‘
Notes to editors:
1. Cllr Cohen: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Cllr Trevethan@ email@example.com
3. Cllr Cohen’s letter to NHS Property Services is as follows:
Dear NHS Property Services,
I note the statement about the work at East Barnet Health Centre which was posted on your website today (21 January) and I consider it interesting that it was posted on the very same day that local people in the area held a demonstration to protest at the length of time they have been deprived of their highly-valued local health centre. They are angry at how long this saga has gone on and the journey time to Vale Drive, which makes it very difficult for many patients to get there, such as mothers with young children, older people, and people with disabilities.
I would be grateful as a local borough councillor for that area if you could provide me with some information about this matter.
- You say the work on the asbestos caused damage to the building – why was this and will whoever carried out the work be penalised?
- Who owns the freehold land of this site and what role do they have in this process?
- Who will carry out the assessment of the different options set out in the statement?
- If there is to be ‘total refurbishment’ or ‘a brand new building’ how long will that take and what happens to patients who use the health centre in the meantime?
- Why has there apparently been no work taking place on the site for months, according to local residents?
- Can you give a categorical assurance that this estate will not be placed on the market for sale, and not be used for any other purpose than as a health centre?
Thankyou for your help in this matter. I would be glad if you could acknowledge receipt of this letter today.
Cllr Philip Cohen, Member for East Barnet
4. The next Health Overview & Scrutiny meeting takes place on 9 February at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall
5. The NHS Property Services statement can be found here: http://www.property.nhs.uk/east-barnet-health-centre-improvement-works-update-for-building-users/
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568