The Royal College of Nursing today called for full “openness and transparency” over the deal signed by the government last night which hands a private company management control of an NHS trust.
The contract, signed at 11pm on Wednesday night hands Circle Health a 10-year management franchise of Cambridgeshire-based Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust, beginning in February 2012.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said the deal was a “hugely significant development, with wider implications for the provision of health services across the UK”.
He added: “It is vital that there is full openness and transparency around the deal and that Circle continues to provide a comprehensive range of services that can be easily accessed by the local community.
“We know the NHS is under huge financial pressure to save £20 billion by 2014 and that Hinchingbrooke Hospital is carrying about £40m of debt. These financial gaps must not be plugged by cutting local services such as accident and emergency in the future.
“It is also crucial that Circle continues to recruit and retain the right numbers of staff with the correct skills to ensure the highest possible patient care. There is clear evidence that the quality of care and patient safety is improved when you have the right numbers and skills in place on wards.”
According to a statement released by the company this morning, Circle has agreed to cover any losses made by the hospital once it takes over, up to a limit of £5m. If the hospital loses more than that on Circle’s watch, either the company or the NHS can terminate the contract. In this case Circle would have to pay the hospital an extra £2m termination fee, but its potential losses on the deal are capped at £7m.
Speaking to Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal this morning, Circle chief executive Ali Parsa said the company would hand nurses and doctors at the hospital control and responsibility for running their services.
“I’m a huge believer that the problem is not the people, the problem is the system, he said.
Whereas in the past managers at Hinchingbrooke had been told they “have to have complete control over everything people do”, Circle would tell them their job was to “facilitate what people at the bottom do”, he claimed. Control and responsibility for the running of services and delivery of efficiency savings would be devolved to clinical units of 20 to 50 staff members, with big decisions made “collectively”.
But trade union Unite said for the last 18 months, the government had been “actively gearing up to privatise the NHS – and now at the first opportunity they have done so”.
National officer for health Rachael Maskell said: “We predict that in 12 months’ time, services will decline and some hospital staff will have been made redundant or will be facing redundancy. Circle is a profit-making firm whose first priority is shareholder satisfaction, and not patient care.”