Circle rebuts Labour blogger’s hospital ‘chaos’ claim

CLAIMS by a Labour blogger that Huntingdon’s Hinchingbrooke Hospital is in “total chaos” have been rebutted by the facility’s new managers.

�oin Clarke, an Irishman who describes himself as a feminist and educationist, blogged on Saturday that Britain’s “first ever privatised NHS hospital is in total chaos”, citing nine strands of evidence to support his contention.

But directors from part-partnership Circle Healthcare, which began a 10-year management franchise at Hinchingbrooke in February, say his figures are wrong.

Mr Clarke admits that he wants to paint the worst possible picture of the NHS’s first franchised hospital management.

“The battleground as to whether public is bad and private is good in our NHS is being fought, whether we like it or not, at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon,” he wrote.

“That is because it is the only privatised secondary care NHS hospital in the history of our state.

“In short, that means that every piece of good news to come of out of the hospital will be attributed by the Tories to the success of privatisation, and every piece of bad news to come out of the hospital will be labelled by people like me as the fault of privatisation.”

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Among other things, Mr Clark claims the number of complaints at the hospital rose 18.7 per cent in the year to April 2012, compared with the previous year. But that period included only two months of Circle’s management. The level of complaints is now 30 per cent lower than the comparable period of the previous year, Circle’s medical director Massoud Fouladi told The Hunts Post.

Sickness absence has risen 50 per cent since Circle’s arrival, the Labour man asserted. Far from it, retorted Hinchingbrooke’s HR director Paul da Gama. It was 4.25 per cent in July, the latest figure available, compared with 4.56 per cent in January, and has been steady for most of the intervening period apart from a spike in February and March.

“Hinchingbrooke Hospital missed is 28-day guarantee to see all suspected testicular cancer patients in the last quarter,” Mr Clarke asserted. “Only 87 per cent of patients were seen within the 28 days.”

Patients with testicular cancer are treated on a joint ‘pathway’ with Addenbrooke’s with the two hospitals counted together, Dr Fouladi said.

“On cancer generally there has been a step-change improvement in the past six months,” he added.

Mr Clarke also said spending on agency staff had spiralled, the hospital was missing its budget targets and was sacking 47 nurses, and Circle was paying kickbacks to GPs and struggling financially.

“Hinchingbrooke have sacked half the cleaning staff and cut the length of shifts of the remaining staff in half,” he concluded. “The loss of 26 cleaners comes on the back of the plans to axe 47 nurses. Sources in Hinchingbrooke also state that 50 backroom jobs are also to go.”

Dr Fouladi said: “When we took over we had two options, one of which was to bring people in to make service changes. That was a deliberate decision because safety and quality matter, and there was some under-staffing.

“We have tried to fix the things that needed fixing, and we’re proud of that.”

Mr da Gama added: “Our approach has been to fix the quality first and focus on the finance in the second half of the year. We have made good progress on the quality, including recruiting eight new consultants, and now we are going to focus on the finances.

“We are confident that we shall have a stable position by the end of the year.”

He said some staff had been allowed to leave under the mutually-agreed resignation scheme reported by The Hunts Post some weeks ago, as was the review of non-essential cleaning activity.

Streamlining of nursing shift patterns had meant the hospital had been able to increase ward staffing on night shifts without reducing numbers on day shifts, yet with fewer nurses needed overall, he added. That, combined with a review of staffing in back-office support functions, including his own department, meant Hinchingbrooke was likely to end the year with fewer staff than it started 2012/13.

And Dr Fouladi described Mr Clarke’s suggestion that Circle had offered kickbacks to GPs referring patients to its private hospitals as ridiculous. “We have never had a financial relationship with GPs. The General Medical Council guidelines are very clear, and our relationships with GPs are transparent.”