THE first steps towards turning Huntingdon’s Hinchingbrooke Hospital into a five-star hotel with operating theatres begins next week with the introduction of a Michelin-inspired menu.

In a unique move that could provide a template for other district hospitals across the country, management of the £100million-a-year facility will be taken over next Wednesday for 10 years by John Lewis-style partnership Circle.

The company already operates a private hospital in Bath from which the inspiration for Hinchingbrooke's transformation is drawn.

Company spokesman Christina Lineen told The Hunts Post: "Circle believes in putting the 'hospitality' back into hospitals through hotel-style customer care. That's why we hired the hospitality team from the local five-star hotel and a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant to serve our patients when we opened our flagship hospital, CircleBath, in 2010.

"Circle's award-winning hospitality and property teams from the Bath hospital have been working with their counterparts in Hinchingbrooke for several months to transform the quality of hospital experience offered to Hinchingbrooke patients, and a number of other changes will be announced on the launch day," she added.

The plan is to make Hinchingbrooke so attractive to patients that it will become GPs' hospital of choice across a wide area, attracting revenue that will not only exceed operating costs but enable the franchisee to start to pay down a £39m debt.

Circle's head chef, Andreas Wingert, and head of hospitality, Roger Hayward, have now been working closely with the Hinchingbrooke catering department for several months to transform the quality of food offered at Hinchingbrooke.

The Hinchingbrooke team also spent time at CircleBath to discover how they too could deliver freshly-cooked, nutritious and locally sourced food on NHS budgets. And a chef from CircleBath joined the Hinchingbrooke kitchens full-time this month to oversee the changes.

"Patients, staff and visitors will notice less quantity and greater quality as the team focus on delivering fewer dishes to a higher standard," Ms Lineen said.

Hinchingbrooke catering manager Brodrick Pooley added: "It was clear that the team was working flat out to produce too much. Now we want to focus on producing food that is right for our patients and that is of a really good quality.

"We've worked together with Circle staff to put together some innovative new menus, using good quality local produce. We're now thinking about quality rather than quantity."

Next Wednesday, that means a lunchtime choice, after fruit juice or carrot and coriander soup, of Burgundy-style beef, a Mexican mixed bean chilli, or a tomato, red onion and basil salad with croutons, followed by a choice of styles of rice pudding or fresh fruit. The supper menu will include butternut squash soup, a variety of sandwiches and homemade lasagne.

The week's later lunch menus include salmon fishcakes, vegetable pie, chicken Caesar salad, several other pies, the odd curry, numerous vegetarian dishes and, of course, fish on Friday - but no chips.

Sunday lunch next week is roast pork or homemade nut roast, and the cooked breakfast offering varies each day.

Circle's philosophy of driving improvements through involving employees seems to have made a good start. Catering assistants Trish Lindsay, pictured left with Raechel Luty, said they had both felt involved from the very beginning.

Trish said: "We had Ali Parsa [chief executive] from Circle come into the department to talk to us and there have been lists on the walls to collect our feedback. It really feels like we're being listened to.

"They have been asking questions about how we think we can improve and achieve our goals. It's not something that's being done to us, we're involved in it."

Raechel added: "Things are already changing, and the day seems to flow quicker. People can make more changes in their own areas, which gives you more pride in your work."