Feature NHS Reforms

Hinchingbrooke: the shape of things to come?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7692 (Published 29 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7692
  1. Peter Davies, freelance journalist, London
  1. petergdavies{at}ntlworld.com

A private healthcare company is to run an NHS hospital. What does the deal involve, asks Peter Davies, and is it the shape of things to come under the government’s “any willing provider” policy?

What’s unique about the deal?

Circle is to take over Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust in Huntingdonshire and provide a full range of NHS district general hospital services. Private healthcare companies have for some time run units within NHS hospitals, such as treatment centres, but Circle will be the first to operate an entire hospital. The previous Labour government passed legislation making this possible in exceptional circumstances. Hinchingbrooke is £39m (€45.5m; $60.3m) in the red—the largest legacy debt as a proportion of turnover in the NHS—and the Care Quality Commission is concerned about the trust’s stroke and cancer services. All Hinchingbrooke’s assets will remain NHS owned, with Circle holding a franchise. “It’s not privatisation,” says Stephen Dunn, NHS Midlands and East’s director of policy and strategy. “Without this, we might have had to substantially cut services or close the hospital.”

Catherine Hubbard, joint medical director at Hinchingbrooke, says: “It’s …

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