Hinchingbrooke Hospital's bosses claim improved care

Hinchingbrooke Hospital graphic
Image caption Circle took over the running of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in February

The first private company to run an NHS hospital claims it has cut waiting times, improved care and delivered savings in its first six months.

Circle has run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire since February.

Regional NHS officials monitoring Circle say the company has made a good start, while warning that improvements at the hospital must be sustainable.

But the biggest health union, Unison, says staff morale is falling amid worries over job losses.

The BBC's health correspondent, Adam Brimelow, said Circle's 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke hospital is a key test of the ability of the private sector to turn around struggling public services, not just in health but right across government.

Before the takeover, ministers had described the hospital as a clinical and financial basket case, our correspondent added.

Upon its takeover, Circle announced a 16-point transformation plan including putting doctors and nurses in leadership roles.

It says this has helped to deliver big improvements, reflected by high patient approval ratings, and its accident and emergency department becoming the "top performing full service trust among all hospitals in the Midlands and East of England region".

Paper savings

The company also hopes to balance the books year on year in the next two to three years.

Circle chief executive Ali Parsa said the company had saved £1.6m by ordering the hospital's paper supplies differently, and they had introduced the same management style used at their private hospitals.

"The principle is the same. You let the doctors and nurses and the healthcare professionals - who know the patient best and who know their services best - and let them take charge.

"And that's what we've done. And by doing that and giving them the resource, and the talent they need, the management experience they need, they've bit by bit turned the hospital into what you've heard."

Mr Parsa dismissed criticism that cleaning had been compromised by cuts at the hospital.

"We basically increased the cleaning in the clinical areas, we reduced the cleaning in the offices and the residential areas - where the nurses and doctors, the managers live - and we made a saving."

Unison, which strongly opposed the deal, says the honeymoon period for Circle at Hinchingbrooke is over, and that staff at the hospital are worried about cuts.

The union's assistant general secretary, Karen Jennings, said there were signs that this had already started to happen.

"One of the ways that they've started to save money - and this was one of our fears - was that through newly negotiated contracts with the outsourced cleaning services, they have made cuts.

"And that means there will be cuts in cleaning staff - a vital and critical group of staff to making sure there's no cross infection - that the hospital is clean."

But Dr Stephen Dunn, from NHS Midlands and East, who helped to negotiate the contract with Circle, said the company had tackled the franchise with energy and verve.

"The early signs are good but there are stiff financial challenges ahead. They need to show that they can deliver sustainable change and improved performance."

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