Circle CEO calls for more privately-run hospitals


The chief executive of the first private company to take charge of an NHS district general hospital today 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, Cambridgeshire, 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."

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.

"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."

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."

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."

Ms Jennings added: "Well done to Hinchingbrooke - and that includes Circle and all the staff - for where they've got to now. But I have to say that staff are a little bit nervous. There are talks about voluntary severance, and there is a large cut in the number of cleaning staff.

"That's very concerning because one of the promises that was made was that there would be not cuts in services. This is a particular problem across England in terms of the way the contracts are now being negotiated, because they are looking at the cheapest rather than the best standards."

Mr Parsa said cleaning services had been cut only in offices and residential accommodation for staff at the hospital. Cleaning of hospital wards had increased "substantially", with more cleaning staff in clinical areas, he said.

Cleaners are allocated to specific units to give them "ownership" of the areas where they work, said Mr Parsa, who added that he would be "gobsmacked" if any of them had seen their pay cut as a result of the changes.

Further savings have been made in procurement, for instance cutting £1.6 million off the trust's spending on paper, he said.