New Whittington Hospital chair defiant in face of protest: ‘I’m not a private healthcare stooge’
PUBLISHED: 11:28 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:29 10 January 2014
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A controversial new hospital boss has hit back at claims that he is a private healthcare 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 allegedly aggressive management style.
On Wednesday, dozens of protesters congregated outside the Magdala Avenue hospital in Highgate ahead of his first board meeting, to question his links to private healthcare companies and to call for him and chief executive Dr Yi Mien Koh to resign.
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 advice about commissioning healthcare contracts.
“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 worrying. Our problem is his links to private healthcare 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 appoint myself. I am allowed opinions on legislation, the same as everyone else.
“I haven’t stood for election for eight years and 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.”
Mr Hitchins was the leader of Islington Council from 2000 to 2006, during which time Private Finance Initiative (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, branded him “unreliable, undemocratic and serving his own interests before anyone else”.
He is now concerned Mr Hitchens will continue in this vein during his two-day-a-week, £21,000-a-year role.
Mr Hitchins replied: “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.”