Election candidate takes firm stance on PFI

Ellie Merton, independent parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow, is campaigning to save Whipps Cross University Hospital from the debt-laden Barts Health NHS Trust

Photo: Ellie Merton
Photo copyright of Ellie Merton

It is the first time that Ellie Merton is running for MP in her local constituency of Walthamstow, but she is no stranger to politics. As a student, she campaigned against homophobia and was elected as the Student Welfare Officer at the University of London. Recently, she has been campaigning for Palestine.

But when Whipps Cross hospital was rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission in March, Ms Merton knew she had to enter the election.

“I realised that I had the motivation to stand for more than just international human rights, and actually do something on an issue that really worried me; my local hospital,” she says.

Whipps Cross was taken over a few years ago by Barts Health NHS Trust, which is laden with Private Finance Initiative debt, with an estimated £93 million deficit.

Since Whipps Cross was rated “inadequate,” Barts Health has taken steps to sell land and disused buildings around the hospital, stating that this will be re-invested in improving services.

Ms Merton believes that the money raised through the sales will not be used wisely.

“Barts Health are selling off the land to try and raise money for their PFI debts. Whipps Cross will have less funding because Barts is spending so much,” she says.

“All the resources that are going in to Whipps are to fund basic maintenance. And they need to be concentrating on the clinical care, not just rewiring everything.”

Ms Merton is particularly concerned that in the last few years staff have been “down-banded,” meaning that they are given lower pay grades and status. She says that experienced staff have been fired or taken voluntary redundancy.

“There is pretty much a skeleton staff in some areas,” she says. “And they’ve hired in contract staff who are less qualified and it’s really putting patient care at risk.”

On the campaign trail, Ms Merton has heard the same fears from local residents over and over again.

“People don’t start talking until I mention the NHS and then they suddenly open up about these extraordinary situations they’ve been in,” she says, recalling tales of sub-par care.

Ms Merton believes that Whipps Cross should become independent once again from the Barts Health Trust, and go back to being fully nationalised, with no PFI.

“You can have small level private procurement, ” she says. “But the big single company providing a service has to go because we’re funding debt not funding service.”

She is hopeful for the future: “There’s a chance we can get morale back up, we can remove this bullying culture where anybody that speaks out is bullied out of their job,” she says.

When the votes are counted, Ms Merton is hoping that she will win, but if she doesn’t, she intends to continue campaigning for Whipps Cross.

“Every single conversation I’ve had over the last few weeks really matters to me,” she says.

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