'Basket Case' Hospital Turned Around By Private Firm In Two Years

'Basket Case' Hospital Turned Around By Private Firm In Two Years

A failing NHS hospital has been voted the best for patient care just two years after it was taken over by a private company. Hinchingbrooke, was described as a ‘basket case’ after running up debts of £40million, and failing to maintain acceptable standards, according to the Daily Mail.

The hospital which is run by the private firm ‘Circle’ was assessed for mortality rates, re-admission rates and speed in dealing with cancer cases. In November 2011 the Health Minister, the Earl Howe, described the hospital as a “financial and clinical basket case”. The Royal College of Surgeons, the group that represents some of the most senior doctors in the country, branded the 369-bed hospital “dysfunctional”.

However today Circle has turned around the fortunes of the hospital, they expect to break even this year and make a profit in 2015. They took over in February 2012 and were the first such takeover in the country. They immediately ushered in a number of changes that saw improvements within months.

Last week the hospital became the only small hospital to be put on the five strong shortlist for the CHKS Group quality care awards shortlist of five on Tuesday. A panel of experts comes up with the list based on a series of indicators.

The key to their success was bringing business practises into the hospital. The chief executive Steve Melton is a former Argos executive, who insisted that patients be asked for feedback which must be acted upon within three weeks. 

Mr Melton said: “Two years ago, Hinchingbrooke suffered from a series of problems so severe it faced imminent closure. Now, thanks to the incredible efforts of our leading doctors and nurses, we are the top-ranking hospital for quality of care in the whole of England.

“It is clear proof the growing number of hospitals in special measures across the NHS can be transformed too, staying open to deliver the critical services their patients need.”

The hospital in Cambridgeshire serves 160,000 patients, and will now be held up as an example of how greater private sector involvement can improve services whilst delivering cuts in costs. 

Julie Bailey, the founder of Cure the NHS, said: “What this shows is the potential of allowing those on the frontline to lead, as Circle do. The potential is there within the NHS – the majority of people wouldn’t care who provides their services as long as it was safe.”

Local MP Jonathan Djanogly said: “Before this contract was in place there was an annual deep breath about what was going to happen and whether the hospital was going to survive. Now there’s a future for the hospital and we know through the security of the contract that they can operate for a certain period. I don’t know where that leaves Ed Miliband.”

Despite the success at Hinchingbrooke, NHS vested interests still claim the model of private involvement does not work or will be damaging. Trades Unions oppose greater private sector involvement, even when it can be seen to improve the NHS. Unite the Union has established a group called ‘Save Our NHS’, which sent protesters to Conservative Party Conference last year. 

Ed Miliband himself said of the Health and Social Care Bill (2012) “I suspect that, if implemented, this Bill will do enduring damage to the culture in which our NHS operates.” He went on to claim that a greater use of the private sector would destroy the service.

Conservatives have long suggested that the private sector could improve the service, but have found it difficult to convince the public that these appointments would improve healthcare. Despite its inaction in other areas the coalition government has made major changes in health. They have brought in much more private sector involvement, and will hope that process will see similar turn around at other failing hospitals.

The experience in the Free School programme is that media outlets like the BBC and the Guardian will ignore success stories and instead concentrate on the minority of cases when private involvement goes wrong. This in turn can make these programmes appear unsuccessful. 

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