Sunday, 16 September 2007

Where's Patricia Hewitt?

Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt is an MP for Leicester:

Campaigners are fighting to save the job of health chief Peter Reading who they fear is being made a scapegoat over the collapse of a massive revamp of Leicester's hospitals.

Peter Reading, chief executive of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, is said to be on "unavoidable annual leave" and the trust did not know when he was due to return.

Mr Reading failed to appear at a public meeting at the Walkers Stadium on Monday despite it being publicly advertised that he would be there.

He did not attend a trust board meeting on Thursday, September 6 and the board was told he was ill.

Although no-one for the trust will comment further on the current position, patient watchdogs believe he is being forced out because of the collapse of the £711 million Pathway scheme to rebuild Leicester's three hospitals.

The scheme was scrapped in July when costs spiralled to more than £921 million and the trust said it could not afford to go ahead.

Rumours concerning Mr Reading's future have been circulating since the scrapping of Pathway project.

About 500 people are now planning to picket the meeting of the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority, in Nottingham, on October 18.

They will lobby the authority - responsible for overseeing health services in the region - to keep Mr Reading in the job.

Zuffar Haq, chairman of Leicester Patients' Group, is leading the protest.

He said: "I am very concerned that Mr Reading will be made a political scapegoat. It would be a total disaster if, through the interference of Government and strategic health authority, we were to lose one of the best chief executives in the country.

"In the time I have dealt with him, he has been open and honest and does listen to people.

"It will also jeopardise the future development of Leicester's hospitals, which people have been promised for so long."

When asked by the Mercury if Mr Reading had left, a trust spokesman said: "He is on unavoidable annual leave. I don't know when he will be back. He is still chief executive."

The Department of Health said that it has asked the Strategic Health Authority to carry out a review into what went wrong with the Pathway project, a private finance scheme to transform the three sites.

Mr Haq fears hospital development will be further delayed if a new boss is brought in to run Leicester Royal Infirmary, the General and Glenfield hospitals.

Mr Haq said: "The future of Pathway began to look vulnerable when the Treasury called for a review of schemes and put a ceiling on costs.

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