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.
Board papers sent to HSJ