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Apology issued after Whittington Hospital chief falls asleep again in key meeting

PUBLISHED: 12:58 25 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:58 25 September 2014

Steve Hitchins asleep at the clinical commission group's AGM last week.

Steve Hitchins asleep at the clinical commission group's AGM last week.

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The Whittington Hospital has apologised after its chairman fell asleep at a meeting for the second time in sixth months.

Mr Hitchins appeared to be sleeping at a health scrutiny meeting at Camden Town Hall in MarchMr Hitchins appeared to be sleeping at a health scrutiny meeting at Camden Town Hall in March

Whittington Health boss Steve Hitchins, who took up his position heading the hospital trust last December, slept through much of the first annual general meeting of Islington Clinical Commissioning Group last Thursday.

The meeting was an opportunity for people who use the hospital’s services to ask questions of the board and give feedback.

Mr Hitchins also appeared to be asleep at a health scrutiny committee at Camden Town Hall in March, where he was grilled over the resignation of two board members at the Whittington Hospital.

The trust, which runs the hospital in Magdala Avenue, said: “We would like to apologise on behalf of our chair Steve Hitchins for the appearance that he was asleep during the meeting.

“While Steve’s health is a private matter, he is currently undergoing some tests.

“The trust is aware of the situation and is supporting him.”

Health campaigners, who have fought to protect services at the Whittington over the past few troubled years as the hospital has worked to achieve foundation trust status, questioned whether Mr Hitchins should have attended the meeting in the circumstances.

Freelance journalist Sarah Cope, a member of Camden Green Party who lives in Highgate and had keyhole surgery to remove her gallbladder at the Whittington on Friday, said: “You would think that somebody who has so much responsibility for such a vital service would give their apologies if they’re not well enough to be awake for a meeting, or send someone in their place.

“The suffering I saw over the few hours I was in the Whittington was such a shock. I’ve been in there before and it wasn’t like that. It’s like a sinking ship and it’s not surprising the person at the helm is asleep.”

But chair of Healthwatch Haringey, Sharon Grant, said the decision about whether Mr Hitchins was able to attend meetings ultimately rested with him.

“You would hope that he would have the good sense to do what’s appropriate,” she said. “I think one has to be magnanimous if he has health problems, and hope he gets better as quickly as possible.

“We all have lapses in concentration from time to time.”

Shirley Franklin, chair of Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “I am concerned if he finds it boring and that’s why he was asleep. That’s the issue. Was he asleep because he wasn’t engaged in the issues or was he asleep because of health issues? I do think we need to be sympathetic.”

There are a number of common medical conditions that can cause a person to become sleepy during the day.

GP Dr John Brook, of Brook Surgery in Hampstead, said: “If you are diabetic and your blood sugar was very high, that could cause you to fall asleep.

“It is possible a person may have a sleep disorder that has resulted in them being absolutely knackered.

“There are other disorders such as narcolepsy or an underactive thyroid which may make you fall asleep. Pain killers are sedatives as are medications such as antihistamines for an allergy.”


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