When Circle Health took over Cambridgeshire's failing Hinchingbrooke NHS Trust in February, it became the first private company to run a public hospital. Within months, patient surveys were glowing with new-found satisfaction, and there were marked improvements in everything from cancer treatment to accident and emergency waiting times.
Then came half-year accounts showing losses at nearly twice forecast levels, prompting naysayers to talk darkly of the perils of "privatisation" and warn of costly catastrophe to come. Now the National Audit Office is questioning the rigour of the tender process, particularly as regards Circle's promised savings.
There will, of course, be lessons to learn from Hinchingbrooke. But its implications should not be overblown. The success, or otherwise, of Circle in Cambridgeshire is not the last word on privately run NHS hospitals. It is only the first.