This Hospital is Dying

Daily Mirror
By John Pilger

Thursday 20 January 1977

"Dr Ron Singer speaking for all the doctors at Hackney General Hospital, said yesterday 'The disaster at Northampton Hospital has lifted the rock on a national crisis which no longer can be covered up. Let me tell you about the death of one nine-year-old child.'

'I watched this little boy die in an ambulance which taking him from Hackney Hospital. Because there was no paediatrician here and the children’s ward was closed. He had an acute viral infection and when we got him though the traffic to Queen Elizabeth Hopital, there was no surgeon available at that moment. If Hackney had been a hospital with civilised facilities he could have been given a tracheotomy and this might have save his life.'


All forty-five junior doctors at Hackney Hospital have followed the lead of Northampton’s doctors, whose plight I reported in the Daily Mirror last week, and have issued a public statement saying that there is 'irrefutable evidence that patients in need of admission are not being admitted through lack of beds.'

The statement says that the medical standards are collapsing at Hackney and, with further spending cuts planned … 'we are appalled that still further deterioration in caser is on the way.'

Standing outside the 120-year-old crumbling workhouse that is Hackney Hospital, the doctors presented this statement to Junior Health Minister Roland Moyle who, in the wake of the extraordinary visit by Social Services Secretary David Ennals’ to Northampton Hospital on Monday, toured Hackney yesterday – where conditions, in many instances are even more dangerous than at Northampton.

Unlike Mr. Ennals’, Mr. Moyle seemed to be troubled by what he saw and he was promised the doctors a Commons reply and 'serious consideration.'

Hackney Hospital, in its attempts to make economies amounting to £500,000, has closed down a number of wards including the children’s ward. 'This means', said Mr. Denis Wilkins, a surgeon, 'that we are turning away children from Casualty and, in the event of an accident in which adults and children are injured, an ambulance officer has to make the terrible decision of whether or not to make a run for the hospital and take his chances or try another.'

'Our casualty is so impoverished that we don’t even have a defibrillator. That’s the electric machine that starts someone’s heart when they’ve had an attack. Its just about the most essential and basic piece of equipment any hospital needs.'

The casualty department like most of the hospital has lost little of its workhouse atmosphere – except for the dedication of the staff. The old operating theatre fills with fumes and dust from the streets outside, vibrates with the traffic and has to be used as a public throughway when the lift breaks down.

The maternity block has just closed down because there is fungus growing on the walls and not enough water for the bedpans and the sewer overflows. Also, it is next to the mortuary where the mothers have been meeting coffins on their way out.

Expectant mothers are sent to a former Salvation Army place where there is no blood, no anaesthetics and these have to be rushed there by car. “There is one Dr Wilkins, and he can’t cope.”

In one corridor my hands were soon black from touching the walls, which have a film of filth, and Mr. Moyle was shown a sluice room where bedpans are emptied and which was described by one doctor as “bloody disgusting”.

Dr. John Reed, the consultant in charge of the psychiatric unit says that if Hackney is denied funds there will be more suicides because of “rat pit” conditions. Dr. Reed says that, in the last six months, a depressed patient ran from the hospital while staff were trying to find him a bed, and killed himself. Another patient who needed constant care and observation – which was not available – ended up in Brixton prison and killed himself.

In the psychiatric ward I saw there was no privacy: the television, all eating and recreation had to be done in the dormitories. There was no proper fire bolts, and Dr. Reed is often forced to padlock doors to prevent patients from wandering away. Disturbed young people are mixed up with the old and senile – whose lavatories are not even heated.

Hackney, where poverty these days is almost a presence in the streets, was at the bottom of the heap when the hospital was built last century and it is still there. It is an area of mostly the very poor, the very old and the very young; it has the highest national rate in almost every illness, from tuberculosis to venereal disease, and there are more accidents and mental breakdowns. The people there have come to depend on their hospital as a “front line” against and even greater hardship.

Hackney is part of the East Thames Regional Health Authority, which also administered the great teaching hospital St Bartholomew’s, and has decided that the poorest must bear a very considerable burden on the spending cuts.

The doctors and local administrators believe that only recognition by Mr. Ennals and the Government that the country’s poorest hospitals need special funds can prevent suffering and tragedy that is no longer invisible, such as the death of one nine-year-old boy.'

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