Well – it’s happened …..
Circle, a company which is part-listed on the London Stock Exchange and has many ex-Goldman Sachs etc. employees, is to take over Hinchingbrooke hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, from 1 February 2012.
So do we welcome this – or not?
Will Circle provide American-style efficiency
- offering diagnostics such as MRI scans 24/7?
- 2nd opinions as a matter of course?
- Patient-centred medicine?
And all the other good elements of healthcare that are taken for granted abroad?
Or is this going to be another watered down contract where firms cherry-pick the best and most profitable parts, NHS administrators who haven’t a clue pass contracts, and the PBP (poor bxxxxy patient) is left picking up the pieces?
Looking at a Circle hospital video, it all looks brilliant:
However, promising us Michelin-starred food and Mandarin Oriental hotel services is going a bit OTT, particularly as the Mandarin’s flagship hotel, the Hyde Park, has been transformed to look like an undertaker’s parlour. And although the company has signed a contract to maintain services, unions fear staff numbers could be cut.
What’s the deal?
Hinchingbrooke hospital faced an uncertain future, and the possibility of closure, because of long-term financial problems. With about £40m of debt, its financial status has been given a high risk red rating by the NHS.
The franchise deal with Circle was developed after concerns that the hospital had become unviable, and a local campaign to maintain services. Now, will that debt be repaid to the NHS, or will Circle come in with a clear balance sheet?
Circle describes itself as a social enterprise because 49.9% is owned by a partnership of employees. Others see it as a private business as the rest is owned by its parent company, Circle Holdings, which is listed on the stock market.
Dr Stephen Dunn, from the NHS in the East of England, says the hospital will continue to be paid at NHS rates for its work while it is being run by Circle. For those of us who watch the way the NHS can waste money, having tight budgetary control could mean NHS money being spent where it was needed, rather than on grandiose schemes.
But for anyone living in the Huntingdon area, this must be worrying times, and it would be well that as many patients as possible get involved.
For the moment this deal is a one off, but other hospitals are struggling financially. About 20 in England have been named by ministers as being unviable in their current form.
If Circle manages to maintain the range and standards of care at Hinchingbrooke, but cut costs, that in itself could put pressure on NHS managers at other hospitals to do the same.
Circle might just suceed and they certainly seemed to have grasped the concept that many hospital services are under-utilised. Saying they are trying to use assets like the operating theatres more effectively, they are following what Gerry Robinson and so many others advocate, but NHS won’t put in place.
“It’s a hugely original deal – we’ve managed to avoid the possibility of closing the hospital. We’ve got a solution to the debt – and have plans that allow us to meet the efficiency challenges the NHS faces.”
Any significant changes in services at the hospital will have to be agreed with the local NHS and the public will have to be consulted. So if you live locally, make sure you are involved.
Circle chief executive Ali Parsa says “We want to create a John Lewis-style model with everyone who works there in charge of the hospital, letting them own the problems and solve them. We will try everything we can to make this small hospital viable – if we can how fantastic would that be?”
Local GPs, now in a group getting ready to plan and buy services for the area, have been pressing for the deal to be signed off. They wrote to the prime minister to express concerns about the delay.
The deal is potentially politically controversial and not all are convinced this is the only solution to keeping Hinchingbrooke open.
Public sector union Unison’s head of health, Christina McAnea, said a new management team could have been found without putting a contract out to tender.
If Circle can pull this off, it could see the start of more efficient patient care – if they can’t …. it doesn’t bear thinking about.
But the way the NHS is currently crumbling, any company with basic good management has got to be able to offer a better service than patients get currently. Every time I go past a silent department at weekends, or see theatres closed on a Friday for the weekend shut-down, I shudder at the waste.