Weston General Hospital considers future
A private company could share the running of Weston-super-Mare's debt-ridden General Hospital in the future.
It is one of a number of options being considered by the Weston Area Health NHS Trust, as it tries to comply with new government health reforms.
The complex is £5m in debt and must cut losses ahead of new government rules.
A statement from Weston Area Health NHS Trust said discussions about its future were "progressing well", and stressed NHS services will continue in the town.
New government rules say all NHS trusts must become foundation trusts by April 2014, thereby proving they can run their services without going into debt and function independently of the Department of Health.
As well possibly entering into a partnership with an external organisation, merging with a foundation trust is another option.Financial deficit
"We announced in November that as the trust was one of the smallest in the country, it did not have the critical mass of services sufficient to become a standalone NHS Foundation Trust," the trust statement continued.
It's a big problem in the case of the hospital trust here in Weston.
There are two options which the trust is now considering - they can be acquired by another NHS Foundation Trust or they can find a partner to run the hospital's services.
That partner could be from the private sector. It could be a voluntary organisation or it could be a charity.
My understanding is that the trust has been looking at the private sector model, although nothing has yet been decided.
The high-profile example of this approach is at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Last February it became the first NHS hospital to be operated by a private partner, when the Circle Partnership took over its running.
"Whichever route we end up taking, it is clear that the trust must, and will, continue to provide NHS services for NHS patients. Whatever option is selected, all staff and assets will remain within the NHS."
The financial deficit at Weston General Hospital has, until now, been covered by the NHS North Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT).
That arrangement will end shortly when the PCT is disbanded and replaced by what is called a clinical commissioning group, which will not have the money to bail out the hospital.
Weston Area Health NHS Trust was one of three trusts in England highlighted recently by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee as not having a proper financial plan for its future.
Christina Cook from the Unison trade union said: "Unison is totally opposed to the privatisation of Weston General Hospital as its members wish to continue working for the NHS.
"Unison members feel very strongly about this subject and are prepared to campaign against privatisation."