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Corbyn opposes hospital property deal

Whittington board urged to rethink partnership with firm linked to Grenfell Tower disaster

09 February, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition on Saturday’s demo in support of NHS

JEREMY Corbyn has declared he “cannot support” Whittington Hospital board’s plans to strike a long-term redevelopment deal with a company closely connected to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The Labour Party leader and Islington North MP said he had met the Archway hospital trust’s board and had “encouraged” chief executive Siobhan Harrington and chairman Steve Hitchins to “explore alternative options” to hiring Ryhurst.

Ryhurst is a subsidiary of and shares offices with Rydon, the company that was lead contractor for the refurbishment of the tower block where dozens of people died in a fire in June last year.

The Whittington board has said the company is its preferred partner in a huge redevelopment of the NHS trust’s estate.

Mr Corbyn had already raised “serious concerns” about the move, but this week issued a far stronger statement: “I cannot support the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust senior management and board selection of Ryhurst (a subsidiary of the company Rydon) as the preferred company to oversee this development, and I share the concerns expressed by the community.”

He added: “It is imperative that the estates strategy is implemented in such a way that it guarantees public support and confidence.”

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition has been campaigning to get the board to scrap plans to hire Ryhurst because of its association with Grenfell. It supports the overall estates strategy project, which could lead to ageing hospital buildings being modernised through the sale of sites on the private market.

The Justice for Grenfell group has criticised the Whittington board. This week, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, speaking generally, has said any contract awards for Rydon were “a dreadful error of judgment”, given that its work “is currently at the centre of investigations into one of the country’s most tragic building disasters”.

Two other NHS trusts have pulled out of deals with the company.

The Whittington board has repeatedly said it selected Ryhurst three days before the Grenfell fire.

It then claims it took legal advice, which said it would be opening itself up to a long-running and costly challenge from the company were it to back out.

In October, it revealed that the company was its “strategic estates partner”, triggering a series of protests and a packed public meeting in Islington Town Hall.

Rydon has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing over its work on Grenfell Tower. The company has repeatedly said it met all government building work guidelines and regulations.

A Whittington statement said: “The aim of the SEP [Strategic Estate Partnership] is to enable Whittington Health NHS Trust to redevelop its maternity and neonatal services, upgrade community children’s services and offer good-quality, affordable housing in London for residents and staff.”
Ryhurst has not commented on the row, but has said that the proposed partnership would help “secure the resources to ensure the sustainability and long-term success of the NHS trust”.

The deal has not yet been formally approved by the Department of Health quango NHS Improvement.

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