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 83.

    Pedro Escobar asks about superfluous managers at Hinchingbrooke. When it first opened, all department heads reported directly a Director. It worked exceptionally well as they always had open door access to the top tier. Later, more inept management cut themselves off from the front line by introducing directorate managers, cutting the service heads out of the loop. The problems started from there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Why didn't these doctors ask for such changes BEFORE the place got into debt ....... maybe because the forgot their oaths and saw a BIG profit .....

  • 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 80.

    It is not wrong in and of itself but it represents a first step on a journey to health privatisation that the Tories desire. Profit from the public purse for healthcare, Universities charging 9K for 4K of services - profit from a nation's education. The con is that profit boosts performance yet all the evidence of Tory privatisation is that it boosts chaos and the bank accounts of their friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    What really concerns me is the phrase "improve staff efficiency such as nurses spending less time with patients". I can see that this might reduce costs and improve profitability, but it is an accountancy approach to patient care, not a drive to provide the best possible care to every patient. The Health Service (Private or Public) should be run to provide care, not profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    this seems to be the same principle as selling off the forests - it would be nice to keep some of our national resources intact rather than pawning them off. In this case, it isn't only a short-sighted policy, but people will be harmed in the short and long term.
    As with the CPS changes, we know that reform needs to happen, we just don't agree that your ideas for those reforms are right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Hospital was failing, care was probably poor, large levels of debt
    Something had to be done

    Whilst I have no allegiance to any politcal party and can view things from a non-biased perspective - I'm comfortable that trying something different (private run hospital) as a test case is a positive thing
    Surely, its a given that all of us just want a successful, well-run hospital when called upon

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    this is not going to work -just more managers getting more pay and less going to the nursing staff and patients!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The government go on and on about saving money in the NHS but here in the northeast we are having a brand new hospital foisted on us that very few seem to want. Upgrading the existing units is all that is necessary and would cost MUCH less.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Yet another hospital built under PFI arrangements in trouble.The govt need to look at all the hospitals built using PFI and if necessary,legislate to scrap and re-negotiate the contracts.Stories abound on how these contracts limit hospitals to having to use the builders maintenance crews at prices way outside the norm.No wonder these new hospitals are in debt before they start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    This will work if an effective way of paying based on quality of service is used. The trouble of course is the cost and quality of that monitoring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Do you want the NHS privatised?
    Do you want Education privatised?
    Do you want your water supply privatised?

    If your answer to any of these questions in Scotland is no...then you need to say yes to independence, you have no choice.

    Same language. Different people.
    Roll on the Independence vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    >A hospital should never ever ever be run for profit

    But the whole reason this hospital is being taken over is that is has huge loses. It is better to try to make a profit and invest the profit in better scanners and facilities than make a loss and watch everything get run into the ground.

    Hospitals already try to make a profit. Stafford hospital claims to have lost £1M from shutting its A&E.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Circle is not a partnership on the model of John Lewis. John Lewis is wholly owned and controlled by its employees. The majority shareholding in Circle is owned by Circle Holdings, a private company which is incorporated in the tax haven of Jersey. Circle is in this to make money and the government will give it plenty as they can't afford it to fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    £20 for 30 blue pens, etc, etc.

    Instead of reading rubbish try reading up on facts. Pens cost £1.36 for a box of 50. Making such statments makes you look a bit sad and ill informed.
    I work for the NHS and I can tell you that many private contractors see the NHS as a cash cow. Yes there is waste that needs tackling but please get facts right before reading fiction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    As a medical doctor, I'm against private firms coming in, however it seems the government will allow such changes. This particular hospital should be used as a pilot before other trusts follow suit or to learn from this mistake
    I wonder how the £40m deficit will be recovered as private firms must make a profit themselves otherwise they wouldn't be there. Overall this isn't the answer to NHS debt

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.


    As an NHS patient I was given the choice of hospitals for my operation and chose to go into a "private hospital" the NHS paid the bill.


    So you advocate privatisation while at the same time choosing not to accept the financial responsibility. The difference is that next time you might find there is no NHS to pick up the bill and you might have to pay it yourself...and if you can't, tough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    The 'warm' name GP gives a feeling of a 'good doctor, involved in his community', but if the current NHS bill goes through, the doctors will no longer be GPs, but bureaucrats and accountants, as well as being doctors. What they will not be is General Practitioners in close, personal contact with their community. The NHS bill should go, as it is a step, using the GPs as a cover for privatisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    What an appallingly sad day, hospitals should never be run for profit by companies that merely regard patients as customers.

    I expected this from the Tories, but it's the previous government I am more bitterly disappointed with.

    Bliar was elected on slogans of 'x Days to save the NHS', but they just crippled it with more pointless bureacracy & Brown's mad obsession for badly implemented PFIs.


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