THE new Secretary of State for Health is remaining tight-lipped about whether the new coalition government will support plans to privatise the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital. The three remaining private bidders faced the public at a meeting on Wednesday

THE new Secretary of State for Health is remaining tight-lipped about whether the new coalition government will support plans to privatise the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

The three remaining private bidders faced the public at a meeting on Wednesday (May 26) at Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon and in St Neots on July 19 but will not disclose the details of how they plan to manage the hospital. They will only make presentations about their organisations, experience, skills and ethos. This is information which is freely available on their websites.

South Cambridgeshire MP Andrew Lansley has refused to comment on the future of the Huntingdon hospital, which is to be managed by a private firm from next May.

Following numerous phone calls and e-mails from The Hunts Post to Mr Lansley's office, his spokesman said all health enquiries would need to go through the Department of Health. But the Department said it would "not be willing to make a statement on Hinchingbrooke Hospital".

In the run-up to the General Election, Mr Lansley had told The Hunts Post that Hinchingbrooke needed new management and said: "We will continue to seek the best possible management team to put Hinchingbrooke back on its feet.

"There will be no privatisation of the assets or services."

However, the Lib Dems had been opposed to the plan and could influence the future of the scheme.

The previous management at Hinchingbrooke, under chief executive Mark Millar, had ensured that Hinchingbrooke was breaking even, but was not paying off the £40million debt - built up partly by NHS accounting practices.

With no one willing to block the process, it looks as if the East of England Strategic Health Authority will continue its search for a new franchise operator - now down to three companies: Circle Health, Ramsay Health Care and Serco.

However, the information about the plans for Hinchingbrooke that have been put forward by these firms will not be made public, the NHS has reiterated this week.

A spokesman said: "It isn't a case of us holding our cards close to our chest, we are following the general procurement guidelines".

Details of what the bidders intend to do are being kept secret on the basis that they "remain commercial and in confidence". Other MPs have been more forthcoming in commenting about the hospital although they are still reluctant to say if they favour the private management.

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly and North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara insist they want what is best for patients and the community.

Speaking to The Hunts Post neither said they were dogmatically wedded to a private-sector future for the management of the hospital.

Mr Vara said: "The important thing is that we have a hospital with excellent services, and I'm delighted that we still have that.

"If, for the future, that means we have a private concern running it, we have to accept it so long as front-line services are not affected.

"But, if the existing management can manage without the need for private funds, I'm happy for that to continue.

"My main concern is that the local community should have excellent hospital services."

Mr Djanogly said: "It's right that we maximise the money going to the front line.

"I want whatever management provides better service provision for the same cost.

"If that turns out to be the existing management, I have no problem with that, and I have written to the NHS to say that.