An alliance of churches, schools and community associations are launching a challenge to their local health authority today - in spite of attempts to put a legal block on them. At 11am this morning, TELCO - The East London Community Association - will start a three-month survey of Newham General Hospital. A team of 25 lay people from the association's 10,000 membership will take it in turns to visit the hospital, and gather patients' views on issues such as ward cleanliness, hospital food, levels of patient care and staff attitudes. Catholic TELCO spokesman, Paul Bunyan said: "The hospital management have refused to authorise the visits. This means we have a logistical obstacle in finding names of patients to visit over this three-month process. But we are confident that this can be done through our large network of congregations, community groups and schools within our membership." Rev Angus Ritchie, one of TELCO's leaders from the Anglican parish of the Divine Compassion in Plaistow, said: "Over the past year we have heard too many stories from people about their experiences at Newham General Hospital which make them feel undervalued and lacking dignity. So much of what goes on in the NHS is private or confidential. Our experience in dealing with the management at Newham General confirms the findings of the recent report by the Hutton Commission which found the NHS to be unaccountable, remote and unresponsive. This is not just about money. It is about dignity and self respect. "Most of the grievances we have heard have been to do with attitude of health care staff, lack of basic information and common hygiene. These problems are not simply tackled by more money or even a new hospital. This whole campaign is about dignity in Newham's healthcare and the right of organised local people to play a central role in improving their health service." Newham hospital was unavailable for comment on Friday. Paul Bunyan said: "The hospital has talked about 'partnership and community empowerment' but consistently denied us any role in improving the quality of care and service. The survey has the backing of UNISON, the major union representing staff at the hospital. They too are concerned at conditions for patients and staff and the intransigence of management to engage with the issues, and have welcomed TELCO's initiative to get beyond the spin to the reality of hospital life at Newham General."
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