HIGHLY-trained, approachable, friendly staff at innovative Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon will welcome patients and visitors with a smile, adequate, affordable parking outside a bright, airy super-clean building, in which they will see stress-free patients on time and listen to what they say.

HIGHLY-trained, approachable, friendly staff at innovative Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon will welcome patients and visitors with a smile, adequate, affordable parking outside a bright, airy super-clean building, in which they will see stress-free patients on time and listen to what they say.

And they will win the award for best district general hospital in Britain under their new management, Circle, which takes over in February. That's the plan, anyway, a group of 80 staff decided last week at the last of Circle's motivational 'partnership sessions'.

All 1,500 have been given the opportunity to help write the hospital's business plan during Circle's 10-year tenure. The starting point is that they know what patients and the community want but, even in a much-treasured local hospital, are not currently getting.

“We are going to decide where this hospital is going to be in a year or five years' time, what is going to get in the way of that and how we overcome the barriers,” Ali Parsa, Circle's chief executive told the group.

One of the first tasks was to prove wrong a powerful and influential group of people who believed effective healthcare could be delivered only by huge university teaching hospitals, such as Addenbrooke's, Mr Parsa said.

“I think the big teaching hospitals are failing, and they need our money. Our job is to demonstrate that district general hospitals [Hinchingbrooke is one of the smallest in the country] can stand on their own feet as a jewel of the NHS.”

Circle also believes hospitals should be managed by the people who work in them, not by civil servants in Whitehall.

“One square mile in Whitehall and one square mile in the City of London control 90 per cent of the economy,” explained Mr Parsa, former merchant banker who turned social entrepreneur.

All Hinchingbrooke employees will become partners in the company when Circle takes over the hospital in six weeks' time, although their contracts and the other assets remain with the NHS.

“We want to be the agents of our patients. That clearly means we are not the agents of the Secretary of State or the capital markets. Our job is to serve the patients.”

And that will be at the same time as making significant efficiency savings – “but not at the expense of quality of service: we must not short-change the patients”.

Mr Parsa's exhortation was punctuated by murmurs of approval from his new partners, not least when he insisted that there must be zero tolerance of people who do not respect their colleagues. Even the trade union Unison is embracing the new thinking – the Royal College of Nursing was won over earlier.

Many people would be enthusiastic for the new culture, Mr Parsa predicted. Many more would go along with it. But a few would still be hostile or really negative. “If you're one of those people, please, just for one single year, chill. Don't do anything. Don't take away other people's enthusiasm.

“This will be the best district general hospital in the country, because you will have worked extremely hard to make it happen.”