Private firm starts running NHS Hinchingbrooke Hospital


Circle says it can turn Hinchingbrooke Hospital around cutting bureaucracy and improving efficiency

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A private firm has become the first to start running an NHS hospital.

Circle, which is co-owned by doctors, has taken on managing Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Cambridgeshire, which had been threatened with closure as it grappled with £40m of debt.

Circle aims to find a solution to the debt problems of the hospital by attracting new patients.

Union Unison said although the hospital had been saved, it was concerned at involving private firms in the NHS.

The groundbreaking £1bn, 10-year deal will see Circle assume the financial risks of making the hospital more efficient and paying off its £40m of debts.

Circle said it wanted to work with the hospital's staff to improve the safety of its services, and to minimise the number of times patients have to travel to the hospital for different appointments.

Specific timelines are being set for improvements in areas, such as the amount of time nurses spend with patients.

Changes will be led by units - each consisting of a doctor, nurse and administrator.


Circle believes it can make an immediate difference to patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. But in the longer term the more profound effect could be felt across the entire health service.

The situation the Cambridgeshire unit found itself in - with high levels of debt - is far from unique. There are another 20 or so NHS trusts in similar situations. In the future, that number could grow even more.

How to keep these hospitals viable is one of the key questions for the NHS in the 21st Century. Many have argued they need to close, but not everyone shares that doomsday view.

Some NHS trusts are looking at mergers with larger hospitals, while others are seeking to develop their portfolio of specialities to attract more patients. But if the involvement of the private sector can make a difference, interest in such arrangements will grow.

The NHS in the East of England said the takeover was saving a small hospital from having to cut services or close altogether.

Circle chief executive Ali Parsa said: "Today an ambitious programme will be unveiled to turn a hospital, once labelled as 'a basket case', into one of the top 10 in the country.

"Like John Lewis, Circle are employee co-owned, and have a track record of creating best-in-class hospitals by devolving power to the clinicians and staff who are closest to patients. We are confident that we can do it again in Hinchingbrooke."

Dr Stephen Dunn, director of policy and strategy at NHS Midlands and East, said: "I think this is a historic day for the NHS."

Hinchingbrooke Hospital Hinchingbrooke serves a population of about 160,000 people

He said Circle had put forward a "rigorous plan of improvement" to patient care and food quality.

Dr Dunn said this scheme was vital to the survival of Hinchingbrooke.

"Without this process we might have had to close the hospital or cut services," he said.

Phil Gooden, regional organiser for Unison in the East, said that although he welcomed the survival of the hospital he was concerned at private involvement in the NHS.

He said Hinchingbrooke, which had no private beds, may start bringing them in at the expense of NHS beds.

Dr Dunn said there were no plans to start having private beds, although it could not be ruled out.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    The NHS is an amazing organisation, but at the same time it is potentially a bottomless money pit as treatment gets more expensive and people expect more. People may expect more, but at the same time they aren't prepared to pay more tax to fund it. If you want the services then you have to pay the taxes - you can't have it both ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Hinchingbrooke has been my local hospital all my life.
    The medical staff and facilities are amazing but the treatment centre came at a cost the Trust could not afford.
    Many private companies have considered acquiring the treatment centre as a private facility and I can't help feeling that this is the true long term strategy of Circle and that patients will ultimately suffer. I hope I'm wrong...

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I don't approve of privatisation of the NHS. However, it has become something it was never intended to be - modern diagnostic and treatment options are beyond its capacity now. Work it out - if any government had an alternative source of funding for the NHS, then nobody (yes, not a single person) would have to pay basic rate income tax. That is how much the NHS costs in 'real' terms

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    It could be that what is really costing and ruining the NHS is the large number of NHS managers, admin staff, etc, who might well find it a trifle difficult to find such well remunerated work, in line with their capabilities, in the private sector. Agenda for Change has a lot to answer for on that score. I worked in the NHS for more than 20 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    For the people worrying about privatisation of the NHS,there is a huge difference between this example - a group of doctors at the hospital running the place,albeit as a company for the NHS - and the kind of massive American health care provider corporations I think the UK could well do without. Privatisation costs the taxpayer more,with that money going to shareholders,managers and directors.


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