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Whittington hospital’s new chief hits back at his critics before protest

Steve Hitchins says he is not a 'private healthcare stooge' Steve Hitchins says he is not a 'private healthcare stooge'

Thursday, January 9, 2014
12:53 PM

Hot reception for boss who is ‘a victim of own marketing’

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A controversial new hospital boss hit back at claims that he is a private health care stooge, on the day a protest was held against his appointment.

Steve Hitchins started a two-year stint as chairman of the board at the Whittington Hospital on January 1 amid a furore surrounding his political background – including unproven accusations of croneyism – and his alledgedly aggressive management style.

Yesterday (Wednesday), dozens of protesters were expected outside the Magdala Avenue hospital in Archway ahead of his first board meeting to question his links to private healthcare companies and to call for him and chief executive Yi Mien Koh to step down.

Mr Hitchins, 62, former Lib Dem leader of Islington Council, said: “I am a victim of my own marketing.

“I was an unpaid consultant on a couple of occasions when working for a group advising failing local governments. I was asked for my advice about commissioning healthcare contracts from them.

“My advice was so terrible, none of them got the contracts. I have never made a penny from the NHS expect from my non-executive positions.

“The internet is very unforgiving.”

A government website says Mr Hitchins “works with a number of private sector companies principally contracting with local government or the health service”.

Shirley Franklin, chairman of the Defend the Whittington coalition, said: “It is very, very worrying. Our problem is his links to private health care and the fact he was a Lib Dem councillor – a party that allowed the Health and Social Care Act through Parliament.

“We don’t want our hospital privatised. How and why was this appointment allowed to happen?”

Mr Hitchins responded: “I didn’t appointment myself. I am allowed my own opinions on legislation, the same as everyone else.

“I haven’t stood for election for eight years and I am not going to get drawn into a debate about the Health and Social Care Act.

“I don’t think anyone sees the act as wholly good or bad, but I do think it will increase accountably, which is something I am keen to do and will be asking both Haringey and Islington councils to send a cabinet member to attend our board meetings.”

Mr Hitchins was the boss of Islington Council from 2000 to 2006, during which time Private Finance Intiative (PFI) schemes he authorised plunged the town hall into £1.3billion of debt.

He was also at the centre of a three-and-a-half year legal battle which cost the borough more than £350,000 – but was cleared of croneyism.

Cllr Martin Klute, who replaced him in St Peter’s ward, described him as “unreliable, undemocratic and serving his own interests before anyone else.”

He is now concerned the former leader will continue in this vein during his two-day-a-week, £21,000-a-year role as Whittington chief.

Mr Hitchins said: “I’ve only been here a week. My job at the moment is to listen, which is what I will be doing at the board meeting.”

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