Rumours of privatisation are refuted by Whittington Hospital boss

As the government’s planned NHS reforms face stumbling blocks in the House of Lords, the Whittington Hospital’s chairman has spoken out to assuage fears the hospital is facing privatisation by the back door.

Joe Liddane is at the helm of steering the hospital in Magdala Avenue, Highgate, through its planned transition to foundation trust status, which will see the hospital gain greater control over its finances and services.

But the change has attracted fierce criticism from some patients.

They point to plans to lift the cap on the amount of money the hospital can raise from private work to a maximum of 49 per cent, as evidence that it will result in poorer service for the community.

Facing down this critique at a public meeting on Wednesday last week (January 25), Mr Liddane said: “We do almost no private care. The number is so small it is lost in rounding. It is not our aim to go significantly into private care.

“We will look at the opportunities, but anything we ever do would be about investing income to provide better care services.

“The myth that we are going to make a lot of money in private patient’s esoteric interventions is nonsense.”

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He added: “Foundation trusts are seen to give greater autonomy to the local organisations to run their own institute and not be dictated to by Whitehall. I think it is a good idea.”

The Whittington Hospital has merged with NHS Haringey and NHS Islington to become Whittington Health, and now incorporates both acute healthcare and community based provision.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties are committed to a policy of foundation trusts and many see a certain inevitability about the Whittington’s transition to trust status.

Despite this, the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition remains vocal in its opposition.

Shirley Franklin, from the campaign, believes that despite talk of greater local accountability, foundation trusts represent a shift to a fragmented healthcare system and a fundamental departure from the NHS’s universal founding values.

She said: “I am worried we will see a shrinking of services. They give reassurances, but there is nothing to stop them increasing the number of private patients. And it creates confusion over where the services about what services are delivered where.”

The community’s passionate support for the hospital was evident in 2010 when thousands of people took to the streets to protect its Accident and Emergency (A&E) department from closure.

Concerns for the long term future of the A&E department persist in some quarters.

But Mr Liddane insists it is “integral” to the hospital’s future.

“We are absolutely going to have an Accident and Emergency department,” he said. “In the state that we all see it, the A&E exists and will continue to exist for at least as far ahead as we can see.”