Call for more private-run NHS hospitals after Cambridgeshire example

Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon is the first NHS hospital to be managed by a private company Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Archive

The chief executive of the first private company to take charge of an NHS district general hospital, in Cambridgeshire, 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, 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 company's arrival has led to a cut in cleaning and increased job insecurity for staff, which could be detrimental to patient care.

Circle needs a surplus of £70 million 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 £230 million 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."

Ali Parsa, Chief executive of Circle
Ali Parsa is the chief executive of Circle which runs Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital in Huntingdon Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive

Mr Parsa told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "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.

Defending the introduction of private sector practices into the public health service, Mr Parsa said: "The British economy is losing £170 billion 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%', I would do that deal as a taxpayer, any day. That's the deal we did with the NHS."

"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."

– Ali Parsa, Chief executive of Circle
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon is the first NHS hospital to be managed by a private company Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Archive

Karen Jennings, assistant general secretary of Unison, told Today: "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.

"That means that there's going to be cuts in cleaning staff, a vital and critical group of staff to ensure that there's no cross-infection at the hospital. These are very, very early signs of concerns we had about a private management firm taking over."