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Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust

Morale sinking at private franchise hospital

Staff morale at the first NHS acute hospital to be run through a private franchise has consistently deteriorated since it was taken over by the company, a senior executive has admitted.

Private company Circle was awarded a 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust in November 2011 and took over running the Cambridgeshire trust on 1 February 2012.

Circle chief executive Steve Melton revealed that the trust’s initial results from this year’s NHS staff survey were “unquestionably disappointing”. They showed “current engagement levels” were lower at Hinchingbrooke than in comparative district general hospitals, he said.

“Overall the results are less positive than we had hoped and show a minor but consistent deterioration, as compared to last year’s results,” he added.

Mr Melton made the remarks in a report discussed at a trust board meeting last Thursday, nearly one year to the day since its management passed to Circle.

Circle named staff engagement as a priority area, alongside value for money, patient safety and patient experience when it took over the trust this time last year. 

The Royal College of Nursing said shrinking headcounts had increased pressure on remaining nursing and administrative staff, and morale was “extremely low”.

RCN regional director for the eastern region Karen Webb said: “Staff are bewildered and angry about the way changes are being introduced at Hinchingbrooke.”  

But a trust spokeswoman said: “Hinchingbrooke currently ranks as top A&E in the country and top full-service hospital of 46 in the Midlands and East [region], received a clean bill of health from the Care Quality Commission for the first time.

“This pace of change has meant difficult adjustments to shifts, roles and working patterns,” she told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.

Meanwhile, a finance report revealed Hinchingbrooke continued to run an unplanned deficit in December, meaning Circle will have to pay it £3.7m so it can balance its books at the end of the financial year.

This means the company will be forced to use nearly three quarters of the £5m it set aside to pay for deficits in Hinchingbrooke’s budget over its 10-year contract – in the first year of the contract alone.    

Readers' comments (8)

  • who cares about staff morale.......its the profits that count eh!!!!!

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  • Linda Saunders

    Oh I so agree

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  • I think the bigger question here is the numbers. It is absolutely clear that a high achieving hospital costs money. Circle have already sacrificed almost 75% of its ten year contingency fund in the first year, so will cost cutting to avoid further deficit negatively affect the clinical performance of the hospital? Evidence rather suggests that it will.

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  • This is a snapshot of our future healthcare, when Virgin, etc. take over the NHS

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  • Further to anonymous 5.41pm's point -

    when Circle decides that it's 10 year contract isn't financially viable and no longer makes sense in purelybusiness terms - what then? Do they wind everything up and call in the receivers? Or perhaps a taxpayer bailout, just like the banks?

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  • Anon 11.33, if you have the time, Google Supply2Health. It's where all the contracts are advertised. So Circle got a 10 year contract which has a detailed exit clause on both parts. If it fails, the contract is re advertised and anyone else can bid, including the NHS, providing it meets certain criteria (clinical and financial). Have a go at searching a speciality. How it works is the hospital says we will deliver X, Y and Z but we've decided not to do say paediatric neurology because we haven't the staff, patient numbers are small and we would like to focus on being a good DGH. But the patients still need to be seen. So the commissioner can advertise for someone to deliver that service, which could be the teaching hospital up the road. Both the hospital and the commissioner can give 6 months notice (in most cases, not Circle) so if say the clinical outcomes for the new pads service aren't being met, then you issue a cease to provide notice and the merry go round starts again. It's all finance and contracts driven, HUGE change from only a couple of years ago. And if you search your trust or geographic location you'll see what's being tendered.

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  • "...if you search your trust or geographic location you'll see what's being tendered."

    it looks as if care and its provision in the NHS is becoming more and more fragmented which looks as if it could affect quality and varying standards in each area of care with some patients falling through the net.

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  • tinkerbell

    The Nobody | 29-Jan-2013 11:44 pm

    Everything must go in the NHS closing down sale of the century funded by our citizens for businesses/shareholders/tory to make loadsamoney for something they don't even own. Sounds like daylight robbery to me, cos' that's what it is.

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