Public sector union Unison yesterday warned that Circle Healthcare’s takeover of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgshire could lead to a second Southern Cross crisis.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: ‘Circle made losses of over £27m last year and recently floated on the stock market. They look less and less like the social enterprise they claim to be.
‘Their management band is stuffed full of bankers and managers from private industry, who have no experience of health care. Yet this is a company now responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients.
‘We have huge concerns that jobs will be affected by the move, as staffing is the biggest cost area for Trusts.
‘The company is forging ahead with plans to make a profit when it is not a profitable company in the first place – and has been predicted to have an overspend this year.
‘This must not become a precedent for the NHS, or millions more staff and patients will be put at risk.’
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, Dr Peter Carter, said: ‘This is a hugely significant development, with wider implications for the provision of health services across the UK.
‘It is vital that there is full openness and transparency around the deal and that Circle continues to provide a comprehensive range of services that can be easily accessed by the local community.’
BMA Council member Anna Athow warned: ‘In February 2009, the erstwhile Director of commissioning for the NHS, Mark Britnell, who later moved to work for KPMG, predicted that the government had up to 30 more hospitals for private sector take-over in their sites.’
She stressed: ‘This is a giant step towards privatisation of NHS hospitals.
‘It is the first time that a private company has been given a ten-year contract to run a DGH with all departments with responsibility to address its “debts” of around £40m on an annual turnover of £92m.
‘In the last experiment in 2003, when Tribal group took over the management of Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, it did not take the financial risk. The hospital “financially failed” and was taken back by the NHS.
‘For Circle to make the cuts and address the debt, there will have to be a huge downsizing of the workforce in terms of numbers and skill mix and/or increase in private patients or patient charging.
‘Local campaigners point out that the excuse for the the privatisation, is the “debt” which was caused by the government in the first place. The £22m treatment centre which was built by PFI eventually cost £93m, leaving the hospital with the bill.
‘The Health Bill will accelerate and facilitate “financial failure” of hospitals as they are forced to become independent Foundation trust businesses. Market failure will mean they can be actually bought up completely by private companies.
‘The unions should stop collaborating with the government in implementing the Bill, but mobilise their membership to oppose it outright.
‘Every single DGH must be kept open and stay in public ownership. PFI debts must be cancelled. The only way forward is for joint national action by the unions to remove this government.’