New body to monitor hospital franchising

A STAKEHOLDER panel of up to 20 medics, local government personnel, MPs, trade union representatives and the voluntary sector is to be set up to monitor proposals for franchising the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital. The new body, to be chaired by

A "STAKEHOLDER panel" of up to 20 medics, local government personnel, MPs, trade union representatives and the voluntary sector is to be set up to monitor proposals for franchising the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

The new body, to be chaired by Huntingdonshire District Council chief executive David Monks, will meet in public to ensure the new arrangements deliver what the public and patients want from the hospital.

The East of England Strategic Health Authority is expected to take the decision in principle tomorrow (Thursday) to invite bids from the private sector and NHS groups or organisations to take over the management.

The decision to disband the hospital's trust board to save £1million a year in overhead costs was part of the rescue package agreed by NHS Cambridgeshire in summer 2007 and backed by the SHA.

Some staff at the hospital fear franchising is the first step to privatisation. Supporters of the plan say the private sector has been involved with the NHS since it was founded 60 years ago - GPs and dentists, for example, are effectively private contractors.

Several private health providers have already expressed an interest in bidding. Interest is expected from neighbouring NHS hospital trusts, such as Addenbrooke's in Cambridge and Peterborough. It is not yet clear whether the existing Hinchingbrooke management, which has successfully rescued the finances of one of the most popular hospitals in the country, will bid.

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Bidders will be expected to include proposals for dealing with the debt unless the Government writes it off.

The SHA has been anxious to assure the public that, if the private sector does manage the hospital, the NHS will still own the assets and employ the hospital's staff. It is expected to be at least 18 months before any new hospital management is in place.

The creation of the stakeholder panel follows complaints to the SHA by a Cambridgeshire County Council scrutiny panel that the public was insufficiently involved.

David Monks told The Hunts Post yesterday (Tuesday): "Some of the proposals won't have been tested anywhere else. We want some management arrangements where stakeholders can have an intelligent dialogue. There's a strong link between what we do - such as leisure centres, environmental health and so on - and what the NHS does.

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