From left: Steve Hitchins, Ann-Marie Upton of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, Jeremy Corbyn, DWHC chairwoman Shirley Franklin and Jill George
Published: 7 March, 2014
by TOM FOOT
THE new chairman of the Whittington Hospital believes that a fully functioning district general hospital in Highgate is “no longer viable”.
Steve Hitchins was speaking at a meeting organised by the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition in St Mary Brookfield church in Dartmouth Park Hill on Monday night.
He was challenged by patients who said they did not want the hospital to be stripped of crucial services and accused him of “stumbling blandly into oblivion”.
Mr Hitchins told the meeting: “The point about having a district general hospital is well made. But strongly as we all might feel of the idea of a district general hospital in Highgate Hill, it isn’t economically viable. No one is going to fund it, just because we all like it.”
Mr Hitchins said that, in 2012, Haringey and Islington’s council social care services were contracted to the Whittington Hospital because the NHS Trust was no longer “an economically viable unit”.
Mr Hitchins, who was chairman of Haringey Council community care at the time the new “Whittington Health” organisation was formed, said: “At that time, the turnover of the district general hospital was not sufficient to sustain it as an economically viable unit. We lumped a whole load of services in there so that at least we would still have a chance.”
He added: “Now we are breaking even. We are not in danger of financial loss. We have to deliver services that people want, and that the commissioners will pay for. We will retain the important services, but we will be doing other things in the community as well.”
On the mass sell-off of public buildings and cuts to staff proposed by his predecessors last year, he said: “The Whittington isn’t an enormous site, it doesn’t make sense to reduce the size of its plot. What I want to do is help build a relationship that we helped to destroy a year ago.
“But if we want to remain an independent unit, we’ve got to become a foundation trust or we will get merged.
“It’s the only game in town. It doesn’t take much to work out that if we get merged, someone will asset strip the hospital.”
Mr Hitchins was Lib Dem leader of Islington Council for six years, and has held board roles on Islington Primary Care Trust and the Care Quality Commission.
Asked about whether he opposed private companies profiting from NHS contracts, Mr Hitchins said: “We have to decide what’s best for the patient and taxpayers. Sadly, I was on the council when the council resisted private contracts, and it did not result in good services. Services went downhill, because we stuck with too much ideology. That’s the truth of it.”
He added: “We could debate the underfunding of the NHS. I get given what I get given and that’s my job to work with that. If you want to campaign that’s great, fantastic – but that’s not my job. If I made too much of that, I probably wouldn’t last very long at all.”
Jill George, from Unite union, talked about new trade agreements between the US and Europe that would allow American companies to bid for NHS contracts in the future, adding: “We need to build a vibrant, angry and massive campaign.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, thanked everyone for attending the meeting, adding: “Had we not campaigned over the last years the hospital would not have had an A&E department and a lot of land would have been sold off.
“We have to remain vigilant.”