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Whittington chief defends sell-off plans: ‘Secrecy? No - Nobody asked.’

Dr Yi Mien Koh, chief executive of Whittington Health Dr Yi Mien Koh, chief executive of Whittington Health

Thursday, January 31, 2013
8:15 AM

The head of the Whittington Hospital has rebutted criticism that the board’s shock decision to sell off almost half the hospital site has been veiled in secrecy.

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In an interview with the Ham&High, chief executive Dr Yi Mien Koh said: “If people had asked, ‘Will you be selling off this land?’ I would have said ‘Yes’. But nobody asked.”

Last week the board signed off plans to sell land on the north of the site but the hospital has been accused of failing to inform the public and local MPs.

Last month the board held a meeting which was attended by Islington South MP Emily Thornberry and Tottenham MP David Lammy. Despite discussing the hospital’s future, the question of the sale “did not come up”.

Dr Koh, chief executive of Whittington Heath – the trust responsible for running the hospital – said it was “a very open organisation”, pointing to the availability of board meeting agendas online.

She said the decision was part of an NHS-wide plan “to provide care in a different way”.

Dr Koh, who was appointed in March 2011, said: “When you call it ward closure, I call it shifting care into the community.

“In any hospital today, the vast majority of people on the wards are old people and the patients and their carers tell us that acute, busy, highly intensive wards are not the right place for old people.”

She added: “When they need intensive, acute care, this is the right place… but when they want to recover, we know that home is the best place.”

Dr Koh said the Whittington can become “more efficient by using technology better and providing more care in the community” and will not need as many beds “which is why some of the ward closures are happening”.

She added: “If we don’t have beds, then we won’t need the staff to staff them.”

Included in the Estates Strategy is the potential loss of more than 300 Whittington employees and births at the hospital will be capped at 4,000 a year.

Dr Koh pointed to the building of a maternity ward at North Middlesex Hospital in Edmonton and the expansion of maternity services at University College London Hospital in Euston.

She said: “We would love to grow our maternity services but at the moment we’re constrained by space.”

Dr Koh insisted there are “absolutely no plans to close” the Whittington’s Accident and Emergency department, which was last threatened with closure three years ago.

“If anything we’re improving the environment of the A&E with the Estates Strategy,” she said.

“It proposes that we spend £3million in terms of developing an ambulatory (outpatient) care centre, so that we can improve care for those who require it urgently.”

The board has already signed off the five-year Estates Strategy but the next phase requires approval from the Department of Health and local stakeholders, such as councils and town planners.

The buildings will not be sold before December 2015 and the anticipated £17million raised will go towards services at the Whittington, Dr Koh pledged.

She said that the decision to sell the land would have gone ahead even if the hospital was not bidding to become a Foundation Trust.

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