The chief executive of Hinchingbrooke Healthcare NHS Trust says an action plan to improve standards at the Huntingdon hospital will be 90 per cent complete by this summer.

"We have done two-thirds and we have one-third to go," said Hisham Abdel-Rahman. "Hopefully, before the end of the year, the CQC (Care Quality Commission) can come and complete an inspection and we can return to being a good hospital, aspiring to be outstanding."

It will be quite a turnaround from the beginning of the year, when the CQC's rating of Hinchingbrooke was "inadequate", improving to "requires improvement" in last week's revised report.

But Mr Abdel-Rahman has always had a clear aim: "The aspiration of this place is to be a top-10 district general hospital."

That means best for clinical outcomes, best for patient experience, best for staff engagement, and value for money.

It's a message which will be well-known to staff, as it's been the vision for a while, and was not far off being realised. That was until last year, when Mr Abdel-Rahman says there was the "perfect tsunami" - everything that could go wrong with the local health economy, from GP surgeries to social services and community services to staffing levels, did go wrong. All at once.

The result, he said, was that people were turning to their hospital for care, rather than seeking it elsewhere.

"Before the tsunami, we were very much advanced on our journey to being good or outstanding," he recalled. "We had been coping with a certain level of activity we could cope with. When the tsunami happened, we had a 20 per cent increase in A&E (patients) and four times the levels of delayed transfer of care of medically fit patients."

In that scenario, patient safety became priority number one. But the excellence in care which had been evident in the previous two years started to become less consistent.

The CQC inspectors visited in September last year and concluded that Hinchingbrooke was "inadequate" and needed to be put in special measures.

"Special measures was not putting us under administration," Mr Abdel-Rahman was keen to point out. "It wasn't that the current leadership of the hospital could not lead. That's not the case."

An "oversight group" was brought in, including representatives from a variety of national and local health organisations, with a view to overseeing all the sectors providing care in Huntingdonshire.

Making the necessary changes would have to be a team effort, "only with co-ordination", Mr Abdel-Rahman said.

Meanwhile, throughout the turmoil of a damning CQC report and the withdrawal of Circle, the chief exec said staff at Hinchingbrooke had continued to focus on their jobs.

"What's important to you is the patient in front of you. It's a privilege to work in the NHS. We are proud of our hospital. We are proud of our profession, our community and the role of the hospital in delivering healthcare in this community."

He also spoke to alleviate concern that Hinchingbrooke could lose services to neighbouring, larger hospitals in Peterborough or Cambridge.

"There will be no decision made without the population of Huntingdon having a say. There will be no decision about services unless it's backed up by clinical evidence."

As for the CQC, and how it has handled its inspections and reports, Mr Abdel-Rahman summed up his feelings in one line: "I have no bad feeling in my heart about anybody, I am about what is good for my patients."