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Councillors grill ‘fatigued’ chairman over future of Whittington Hospital

Whittington Health chairman Steve Hitchins looked visibly exhausted during the health scrutiny commmittee meeting on Friday Whittington Health chairman Steve Hitchins looked visibly exhausted during the health scrutiny commmittee meeting on Friday

Thursday, April 3, 2014
10:00 AM

It appeared to have been a tough two weeks for the chairman of the Whittington Hospital as he sat slumped at a meeting of the local health watchdog committee.

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Whittigton Health chairman Steve Hitchins was grilled for reassurances over the hospital’s future at a meeting of the joint health overview and scrutiny committee at Camden Town Hall on Friday.

It came after a fortnight when both the chief executive of the hospital in Magdala Avenue, Archway, and two board members announced their resignations.

Mr Hitchins, who looked visibly exhausted during the meeting and was found at one point slumping over in his chair during a health chief’s presentation, admitted there were challenges in determining the “vision” for the future of the trust.

He said: “It’s been an interesting first three months talking to people to ask them what they think Whittington Health [the trust that runs the hospital] is.

“And there isn’t a clear vision.

“That is giving us some worrying results in staff surveys and a degree of uncertainty about the future.

“So we’ve got to develop that vision over the next few months.”

A major part of that vision, according to Mr Hitchins, was developing and rolling out integrated care in the community.

While lamenting the hospital’s “appalling complaints service” he was also quick to praise the progress made in regulatory assessments, care targets and mortality rates (which are the lowest in the country).

Councillors remained concerned, however, over “instability” among leadership at the trust.

Cllr Gideon Bull, chair of the committee and from Haringey Council, said: “I’m extremely concerned at the parting of the chief executive.

“Within three months of you arriving, the chief executive is going. It doesn’t read well.

“We want to make sure that we’ve still got that stability at the top of the organisation in terms of the management structure and that we’ve got all the key officers within the organisation pulling in the same direction.”

The organisation is approaching what could be a Waterloo moment as it aims to gain foundation trust status.

Mr Hitchins said failure to reach this “staging post” would see staff morale “crash to the floor”.

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