The NHS has been “put up for sale” by the Coalition government, Labour have claimed, as it emerged that the Department of Health has approved the possible sell-off a district general hospital.
Board papers published by the NHS Development Authority (NDTA) show that the George Eliot Hospital in Warwickshire could be acquired by another NHS trust or “a franchise that may be a non-NHS organisation”.
If the hospital were acquired by a private company it would become the second in two years, after the Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust was taken over by Circle Health in February last year.
The Health Service Journal reported that the Department of Health had been willing to see the trust begin a process that could lead to franchising, but was awaiting approval from the Treasury, which has now been granted.
Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary said that the decision represented “privatisation driven from the top”.
“Everywhere you look, chunks of the NHS are being broken up and handed to the private sector. With this announcement, it is now proceeding at a pace and scale never seen before,” he said.
“Ministers have spent all year running down the NHS and their real intent is becoming increasing clear - preparing the ground for more privatisation.
”Far from doctors deciding, this is privatisation driven from the top down. David Cameron needs to be reminded he's never been given the permission of the British public to put the NHS up for sale.“
The NDTA report, authored by the organisation's director of delivery and development, Dale Bywater, said it would be ”prudent“ for services to commence with a new ”strategic partner“ at the George Eliot on 1 April 2015.
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, last year became the first in the history of the NHS to be run by a private company. The Circle Partnership pledged to turn around the failing 223-bed trust, which was £40m in debt. The trust received high scores in recent patient feedback tests.
The George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust provides hospital and community services for around 300,000 patients. The trust has been seeking a partner ”via a competitive procurement process“ for several months.
According to the HSJ, several organisations have indicated an interest in running the George Eliot, including Circle Health, Serco and Care UK as well as other local NHS trusts.
Mr Burnham has also written to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, after it was reported that a multi-million pound contract to treat NHS patients with brain tumours was awarded to healthcare giant Hospital Corporation of America International (HCA), which has donated money to the Conservative party. Mr Burnham has asked to know what contact ministers had with HCA, which has donated at least £17,000 to the Conservative party since they came to power.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust has been given approval to seek a partner to ensure that sustainable and high quality care is available for local patients in the future. This will now be considered at a NHS Trust Development Authority board meeting and the Trust will decide how they move forward following this.”
“What is most important is that patients at George Eliot Hospital can access sustainable, high quality care and treatment for years to come. No decision has yet been made and this process is open to both NHS and non-NHS organisations. The Trust will choose the best solution for local patients.
“The successful bidder will be subject to the same rigorous regulation from the Care Quality Commission as other hospitals. They must also continue to improve patient care, and will be accountable to the hospital board, staff and patients they serve for doing so.”