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From flagship to complete failure

NHS privatisation: ‘miracle cure’ hospital is quack remedy
Duncan Milligan, Monday, January 12th, 2015

Hailed as a ‘miracle cure’ the first hospital privatisation has turned out to be a quack remedy.


It took less than two years for the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke hospital to move from being a ‘miracle cure’ to just another quack remedy sold to us by Tory snake oil salesmen. The hospital is now on life support – placed in special measures – and private sector company Circle Holdings told the London Stock Exchange it planned to walk away.


Circle’s move came hours before a damning Care Quality Commission (CQC) report found patient safety at risk, a lack of care and poor leadership. The Commission’s report highlights a blame culture, the bullying and harassment of staff and poor governance.


Hinchingbrooke, in Cambridgeshire, became the first NHS hospital to be handed to private sector management. It was a flagship for privatisation and hailed as a ‘miracle cure’ by those backing further NHS privatisation.




It was the first time any hospital had been declared “inadequate”. The CQC holed the privatisation flagship below the waterline in its damning report.


The report’s detailed findings are worse than reports in national newspapers suggest. It found one ward where care was “inadequate and there were risks to patient safety”.


A high priority of all health care sites is controlling infections. The CQC found at Hinchingbrooke: “Infection control practices were not always complied with.”


Other problems identified included: “People in some areas of the trust were at risk of avoidable harm. The evidence in the location reports for A&E, surgery, medicine and end of life care highlight these risks. We rated this aspect of care inadequate.”


The provision of care on one medical ward “required urgent action to ensure the safety of patients; this was raised with management during the inspection visit.”


The CQC inspectors witnessed directly issues which “raised concerns that there was a blame culture at the hospital…The staff survey showed that staff felt bullied and harassed by managers.”


Staff was praised for their desire to help patients. “We found many instances of staff wishing to care for patients in the best way, but unable to raise concerns or prevent service demands from severely impinging on the quality and kindness of care for patients.”


Privatisation backers often cite the alleged benefits of private sector management. The CQC report suggests otherwise with a call to “take action to reduce the overburdensome administration processes” when admitting patients for acute assessment.


‘Not sufficiently robust’


There was also a breakdown in understanding who was responsible for accountability. “Both the Circle management team and the trust board told us that the other was responsible for holding the trust’s executive team to account. We considered that the governance systems in place were not sufficiently robust.”


Prof Sir Mike Richards, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “Our inspection at Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust highlighted a number of serious concerns, surrounding staffing and risks to patient safety particularly in the A&E department and medical care. There were substantial and frequent staff shortages in the A&E department.


“There were a number of other areas of concern, some of which related to the way in which the trust is led and run. This is the first time that CQC has rated a trust inadequate for ‘caring’. Our findings highlight the significant failings at Hinchingbrooke hospital.”


A formal report to the London Stock Exchange by Circle points to the contract running into significant financial difficulties. It was only £116,000 short of hitting a £5m debt ceiling at which the contract could be terminated.


The implication is that Hinchingbrooke was rapidly becoming ‘Hinching-broke.’ The company blamed rising demand and NHS funding cuts for the contract hitting financial problems.


It said there were “unprecedented increases in accident and emergency attendances, insufficient care places for patients awaiting discharge, and funding levels that have not kept pace with demand.  These conditions have significantly worsened in recent weeks and, save for the £5m cap on aggregate payments, it is highly likely that Circle would be obliged to make further support payments that would exceed the £5m cap.


“Funding for Hinchingbrooke has been cut by approximately 10.1 per cent this financial year.  To maintain the standards that patients deserve will therefore require substantial investment for the foreseeable future, on top of the £5 million we are contractually obliged to provide.”


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “ Hinchingbrooke has gone full circle from flagship to complete failure. This is proof that the privatisation of the NHS is a disastrous experiment at the expense of our healthcare. We believe Circle jumped before it was pushed with the company cynically using the A&E crisis as cover to pull out of its contract.


“It’s time to scrap the disastrous health and social care act which has opened the door to the wholesale privatisation of the NHS and for David Cameron to use his veto in Europe to get the NHS out of TTIP. The disastrous management of  Hinchingbrooke is also a warning on why our NHS should not be included in this trade deal called TTIP.


“If the deal goes through it would give US companies and US investors rights to sue the UK for unlimited sums if a government ever tried to take renationalise NHS contracts. David Cameron must use his veto to get the NHS out of TTIP.”


Circle has been at the heart of the Tory plot to carve up our NHS making donations to the MPs who voted for the health and social care act, to lobbying for the trade deal which could make the NHS sell-off irreversible. The city hedge fund bosses who own Circle are major Conservative Party donors.


  • Lansdowne Partners is owned by Paul Ruddock who donated £340,801.00
  • Invesco Perpetual was founded by Sir Martyn Arbib, who has donated £206,600.00. Invesco owns 28.7 per cent of Circle
  • Odey Asset Management is owned by Robin Crispin Odey, who has donated £94,000.00 and owns a 14.8 per cent stake in Circle
  • BlueCrest Capital has a five per cent stake in Circle. Chief Executive Michael Platt has gifted the party £125,000.00.


Want to know more? The Care Quality Commission Report is at  http://www.cqc.org.uk/provider/RQQ


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