Hospital company trumpets initial success

The chief executive of the first private company to take charge of an NHS district general hospital has said he would like to see the model extended across the health service in England.

Six months after Circle took over the struggling Hinchingbrooke Hospital Trust in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, it has become “one of the best in the country” for quality and is on course to balance its books financially next year, said Ali Parsa.

But health union Unison warned that the firm’s arrival has led to a cut in cleaning and increased job insecurity for staff, which could be detrimental to patient care.

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Circle needs a surplus of £70m over the next 10 years to make a profit at Hinchingbrooke, but Mr Parsa said this would only happen after the hospital’s projected losses of £230m are eliminated.

The Circle model, under which the company is “co-owned” by its workers and clinicians are given decision-making powers within the hospital, should “absolutely” be extended more widely across the NHS, he said. Asked if Circle would like to run more NHS hospitals, he replied: “We would love it.”

Mr Parsa said: “We believe our partners – doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals – should run their own hospitals. Look at Germany, where private companies run more hospitals than government does and satisfaction with their health service is significantly higher than here.

“I think we need to take private/public, the ideology, out of the health service and let the NHS provide free at the point of delivery care.”

Defending the introduction of private sector practices to the NHS, Mr Parsa said: “The British economy is losing £170bn a year. If a company came in and said, ‘I can save all that money for the British taxpayer and in return I want 10 per cent’, I would do that deal as a taxpayer, any day. That’s the deal we did with the NHS.”

Karen Jennings, assistant general secretary of Unison, said: “Unison challenged the notion that Circle should take over Hinchingbrooke, but they are now managing it and we are working with them.

“I think it’s right that Hinchingbrooke celebrates these very, very early successes, but I do need to point out that one of the ways that they started to save money – and this was one of our fears – was that through newly negotiated contracts with outsourced cleaning services, they have made cuts.

“One of the promises that was made was that there would be not cuts in services. This is a particular problem across England in terms of the way the contracts are now being negotiated, because they are looking at the cheapest rather than the best standards.”