THE orthopaedic service at Hinchingbrooke Hospital is the first to come under scrutiny by new management firm Circle.

Representatives from the private company, along with Hinchingbrooke consultants, nurses and patients, gathered at the Huntingdon hospital on Friday to share ideas on how to improve the hip and knee replacement patients' experience.

Mark Lacey, deputy general manager at Circle's Nottingham hospital, led the conference, which was attended by four patients who have recently had surgery at the hospital.

He explained that by improving one service at a time, staff would begin to see a "knock-on effect" across the hospital.

He added: "Sometimes you have to go backwards before you go forwards.

"We need to know where we are starting from so in the future we can show other people our journey: where we have come from and how we got to where we are."

He also told staff: "When we started the Nottingham Treatment Centre, we used to sit in the boardroom, trying to plan our finances, but Ali (Parsa, chief executive of Circle) would always say 'Don't worry about the money. If you get the patient experience and the outcome right, the money will sort itself out.'"

Margaret Nicholls, 64, of Greenfields, Earith, has had two hip replacements and two knee replacements. She told the delegation that she couldn't fault the care she had received at Hinchingbrooke.

She said: "I have had two hips and two knees done Hinchingbrooke and I am very, very satisfied with the surgeon, the nursing staff, with everything. There is nothing that I can honestly say that I didn't like at Hinchingbrooke. When I had my two hips done, I then decided to go to Hinchingbrooke to have both my knees done. I have gone from being in a wheelchair to walking without sticks. It's absolutely amazing. I can't thank Hinchingbrooke enough."

She added: "The only thing I can say could be improved are the chairs on the wards are a little bit hard. And it would be nice to have more nurses on the night shift. They do an exceptional amount of work and they could do with a little bit more help."

Mavis Marston, 72, of Fairfields Crescent, St Ives, said: "Everything went exceedingly well. I went to my doctor and said 'I think I need to get my hip done'. He sent me for an x-ray and within two weeks had my appointment to see the consultant."

She added: "Everything went quickly and smoothly and there were no problems at all. On the ward, there were no complaints whatsoever. Everybody looked after us very well and I would quite happily come back here if it was necessary."

Circle spokesman Christina Lineen said that the workshop will help Circle and Hinchingbrooke staff in their goal to redesign the "patient pathway" through the hospital.

She said: "We want to redesign it around the patient. We have a focus, an almost consumer focus, and we pride ourselves on responding to what the patients say. We see the way to improve services is by getting patients to be as involved as possible, asking them what works, what doesn't.

"In the next six months or so, we will start asking all Hinchingbrooke patients three questions: what one thing did we do well; what should we fix; and would you recommend us to your family and friends? All of those comments will be published, unedited.

"The next step is for staff to sit down, look at the feedback and address each issue. For example, one patient said the chairs were too hard. The staff will look at that issue, look at the budget, find a solution and go back to the patient and let them know what they are going to do about it."

One of Circle's goals is to make Hinchingbrooke one of the country's top 10 district general hospitals.

Ms Lineen said: "It's ambitious but we have done it before. Staff are really excited about it and want to do this."