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NHS campaigners condem Whittington boss for ‘cover up’ over payroll link to MEP wife

NHA MEP candidate Dr Louise Irvine (second from left) outside the Whittington Hospital on Tuesday campaigning against privatisation of the NHS NHA MEP candidate Dr Louise Irvine (second from left) outside the Whittington Hospital on Tuesday campaigning against privatisation of the NHS

Thursday, May 15, 2014
7:30 AM

NHS campaigners are “incredibly concerned” after it emerged that the chairman of the Whittington Hospital had not declared being on the payroll of his MEP wife.

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Steve Hitchins, who joined Whittington Health in December, confirmed this week that he had received payments from his wife, London MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford, that do not appear on the hospital trust’s register of interests, but claimed that he had not accepted any payment since taking on his Whittington role.

Board members are required to “declare any conflict of interest that arises in the course of conducting NHS business”.

Upon joining Whittington Health, the trust that runs the hospital in Magdala Avenue, Archway, Mr Hitchins declared interests in roles for housing trusts, charities and membership of the Liberal Democrats. Also listed is his consultancy firm, Steve Hitchins Ltd.

But under the heading “conflict of interests that may arise out of any known family involvement”, there is written “nil”.

Dr Louise Irvine, London MEP candidate for the National Health Action Party, who campaigned outside the hospital on Tuesday, said: “Our party is incredibly concerned that the chairman of the Whittington didn’t declare receiving a salary from someone who appears so actively committed to legislation that leaves NHS services open to private companies.”

Mr Hitchins denied this, saying: “I’ve always been completely open and transparent with the trust about the work I do with my wife.

“I only get paid £20,000 for my work at the Whittington, which means I only spend three days a week there, so I have time to do other things.

‘‘I’ve worked for my wife for the past eight years; it’s listed in the public domain on her website.”

Baroness Ludford is an active promoter of legislation currently being negotiated in the EU that campaigners claim will “carve up” the NHS to private companies.

Two weeks ago, the Ham&High reported that prospective MEP candidates for the National Health Action Party in this month’s elections view the legislation being drafted as a key threat to the NHS “remaining a public service”.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a landmark EU-US free trade agreement being negotiated between Brussels and Washington.

It would allow transatlantic companies to bid for NHS contracts and sue the government should its actions affect profit.

Baroness Ludford is a key promoter of the legislation and vice-chairman of the EU delegation to the United States.

She has always insisted it would “not make the NHS vulnerable to privatisation”.

While insisting Mr Hitchins’ interests had been “fully disclosed”, Whittington Health said links with his wife would now appear on the declaration of interests.

Simon Pleydell, chief executive of Whittington Health, added: “We are clear that there has been no conflict of interest in the business of the Trust and Steve Hitchins.”

Related stories:

Whittington Hospital boss on payroll of MEP wife denies ‘cover up’ over undisclosed work

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