Protesters at the Whittington Hospital's board meeting
Published: 9 January, 2014
By TOM FOOT
PROTESTERS occupied the Whittington boardroom yesterday (Wednesday) calling for the new chairman to resign on his first day at the helm of the Highgate hospital.
The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition campaign group claimed Steve Hitchins – a former Lib Dem council leader in Islington – had been brought in to oversee a new wave of cuts.
About 30 campaigners carrying “occupy” banners and placards demanded that no services or jobs should be axed.
Mr Hitchins hit back: “Do you want us to go bankrupt? This hospital has to balance financially. If you really want the hospital to have a firm future we are going to have to wash our face.
“If you think that making a bland statement about ‘no cuts’ is going to guarantee the future of the Whittington then I think you misunderstand the NHS, the government of the country and the needs of the community.”
When asked whether he was an “opponent of private healthcare”, Mr Hitchins said: “No, I am not. I think if people want to pay for it they can. I believe in a free society.” He added: “I have absolutely no links to private healthcare.”
According to documents at Companies House, Mr Hitchins is the owner of health consultancy company Steve Hitchins Ltd. He is a former commissioner at the Care Quality Commission, which is investigating whistleblower concerns at the Whittington and is due to file a report later in the year.
He was appointed Whittington chairman by an independent body, the Trust Development Authority (TDA), for two years on a £21,105 salary for a part-time role.
He replaces Joe Liddane, who stepped down last summer to care for his elderly parents.
Despite his reputation as an aggressive and combative operator, Mr Hitchins – sporting a bright tan and wearing a loud purple-and-red tie – was softly spoken and said he was in favour of democracy and transparency.
One of his first tasks will be to help executives submit a new plan for achieving foundation trust status within an 82-day deadline set by the TDA. Mr Hitchins said: “I have spoken to the TDA and they say that our future is in our own hands. We have an opportunity to shape it.”
The board discussed concerns that the hospital would “no longer be sustainable” if the “executive leadership is unable to transform the organisation at the required pace and scale”.
Under the guidance of chief executive Dr Yi Mien Koh, the trust tried to make major savings by selling buildings and axing hundreds of beds and staff last year. The proposal was scrapped after a campaign but many feel the major row could have been averted if the trust had discussed its plans with the public before moving ahead.
DWHC chairwoman Shirley Franklin told the board: “You made a terrible mistake and told us we were wrong and yet it was this board that was wrong and it was irresponsible.”
Campaigners left the boardroom after about 20 minutes, chanting: “Hey, Ho! Hitchins and Koh have got to go.”
It was also revealed today that Robert Aitken, the deputy chairman of the hospital who was in charge when the board scrapped its sell-off plans last year, has quit after six years in the role to give a “clean slate to the new chair”. He is the fifth senior director to leave in the past six months.