IT has taken two-and-a-half years for the National Health Service to get here, but a John Lewis-model partnership will be running Huntingdon’s Hinchingbrooke Hospital from next spring.

IT has taken two-and-a-half years for the National Health Service to get here, but a John Lewis-model partnership will be running Huntingdon's Hinchingbrooke Hospital from next spring.

After six short-listed contenders were whittled down to three bidders for a management franchise for the hospital, and then two, the London-based Circle healthcare partnership emerged today as the organisation set to blaze a cost-cutting trail for other acute hospitals across the country.

The NHS has consistently denied that the process, on which it has spent millions of pounds, is back-door privatization of the health service because neither assets nor staff contracts will pass to the franchisee. But it is expected to become a template for other NHS hospitals across the country to get rid of the service's inherent inefficiencies and, in Hinchingbrooke's case, also start to pay off a £40million debt.

Contracts with Circle are expected to be signed in February with the new management taking over in June next year.

Circle says it has a 'unique partnership model', where everyone from the consultants to the cleaners are co-owners in the business, as well as a track record in turning round NHS services by empowering front-line employees.

Employing over 1,000 seconded NHS staff and treating more than 130,000 patients each year, Circle's NHS day-surgery hospitals in Nottingham and Burton delivered over 20 per cent productivity gains in their first year of Circle operation, at the same time as improving patient outcomes to four times better than the national benchmark, patient satisfaction to 99.4 per cent and staff satisfaction to 91 per cent.

Dr Stephen Dunn, director of strategy at NHS East of England, said: “Circle's John Lewis-style partnership model and track-record of turning around NHS services make them our preferred partner to transform the first NHS Trust to be franchised.

“We are impressed by the way Circle devolve decision-making to those closest to patients, and empower doctors, nurses and all staff to innovate to deliver better care for their patients. In Circle, we have selected a cutting-edge partner with an innovative approach to propel Hinchingbrooke into the premier league. This has to be a model for hospitals that face similar challenges nationally.”

Ali Parsa, Circle's managing partner, said: “Circle's co-operative model offers a Big Society solution for Hinchingbrooke - liberating doctors and nurses to deliver the best services for the patients they know best. This is a great opportunity for a social enterprise and local clinicians to come together to lead the next chapter in the long and successful history of the NHS.

“Through this unique partnership, we will continue to provide high-quality NHS services that are free at the point of use for the people of Huntingdon.

“We'd like to thank the Strategic Health Authority and Department of Health for their willingness to think outside the box to secure the highest quality services for patients in Huntingdon.”

Circle believes it can slash waiting times and run its clinics punctually by involving clinicians in the decision-making process and running the hospital for the benefit of patients.

Most of the company is owned by its employees, and Hinchingbrooke staff would get shares if the bid succeeded.

The other organisation on the short-list was a joint venture of Peterborough and Stamford Hospital NHS Trust and Hampshire-based Serco Group.

Serco said its joint NHS-private sector bid would have brought the best of both worlds to deliver quality, sustainable services in a local hospital that patients could rely on.

HAVE YOUR SAY:

Let us know your views: e-mail editor@huntspost.co.uk or write to 30 High Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TB