University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust has pulled out of the bidding process to run neighbouring George Eliot Hospital Trust, making it appear certain a private firm will be involved in its management.
The withdrawal, on Tuesday, leaves two private companies – Circle and Care UK – and South Warwickshire Foundation Trust left in the running for the hospital trust in Nuneaton.
George Eliot announced a shortlist of five possible bidders shortly before Christmas, but Ramsey Healthcare withdrew last month. The trust’s board agreed in August 2011 that it had no future as an independent organisation and would have to merge or be run as a franchise by another body.
Andy Hardy, chief executive of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, said: “Due to a combination of technical issues and our desire to focus even more on our future sustainability and bid for foundation trust status, we have taken the strategic decision to withdraw our bid.”
George Eliot’s chief executive Kevin McGee said: “The process to find a strategic partner will continue with the remaining shortlisted organisations and we look forward to reviewing their detailed solutions to protect and develop services at the trust.”
Unions argued that the development had “tipped the scales towards a privatisation stitch up”.
They claimed the bidding process overseen by the Trust Development Authority (TDA) had applied new criteria set by Monitor. The “financial liquidity” criteria were changed to exclude NHS hospitals with a private finance initiative project, such as University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, they said.
Christina McAnea, the union’s head of health, said: “It is a bit rich that the NHS hospital has been ruled out on financial grounds, when Care UK and Circle have clearly got financial issues of theirown.
She added: “The whole franchising process is being rigged in favour of the private sector. It is an unfair playing field in which the NHS has one hand tied behind its back. Today’s decision shows that what is in the best interests of local people, patients and staff now come second.”
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell added: “It appears that the goalposts have been moved to open the door wide for private healthcare companies to take over general district hospitals.
The hospital has become the first district hospital that the TDA has allowed private companies to tender for in a bid to reverse the hospital’s poor performance and high death rates which are now being robustly addressed.
Ms Maskell said: “We believe that the future of district hospitals in England lies in a fully resourced, joined-up NHS and not being parcelled out to bidders from the private sector.”
George Eliot has 318 beds, with 2,000 staff. The hospital opened in 1948 – the same year as the NHS – and is running a £5m deficit.
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