UNISON, the biggest health service trade union, yesterday called for Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire to remain in the public sector.

The union condemned plans to make the hospital in Huntingdon the first-ever NHS hospital to be taken over by a private company, calling the plans a ‘dangerous experiment’.

Karen Jennings, Unison Head of Health, said: ‘Hinchingbrooke Hospital does have debts, but they are no worse than many other Trusts.

‘The new hospital management have made inroads into tackling the deficit, making this whole outsourcing process an unnecessary, costly and dangerous experiment.

‘The views of local people, who want to keep their hospital in the NHS, are being trampled on.

‘Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust have been forced out of the running by the huge cost, both in time and money, of this bidding process, and we are left with an all-private shortlist.

‘What experience do these private companies have of running a district general hospital?

‘I have no doubt that they will be itching to get their feet in the door with the thought of more lucrative contracts to come.

‘It is frightening to think that we may get a proliferation of these contracts if the Tories are allowed to get into power.

‘The government should step in and make sure that the NHS is truly the preferred provider and let Hinchingbrooke stay NHS run.’

Hinchingbrooke faces private takeover after the government allowed its management to be put out to tender.

But Cambridge University Hospitals, an NHS Trust, said the bidding process for the ‘£92m a year franchise’ was too onerous.

‘The competitive bidding process will involve considerable investment of both time and money.

‘Continuing to take part would have an impact on services at Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie (Maternity Unit). Accordingly, we have decided to withdraw from the project.’

It leaves five private sector bidders going forward to the next stage of the bidding process, run by the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA).

These are: Care UK, Circle Health, Interhealth Canada, Ramsay Health Care and Serco Health.

They have already been involved in formal contract dialogue with the SHA.

They are expected to set out how they plan to make the 369-bed general hospital a ‘going concern’ and cut its £39 million ‘accumulated deficit’.

The SHA may be prepared to pay the successful private bidder a subsidy, if it is ‘necessary’.

The privatisation move has already caused a storm of protest in Cambridgeshire, with angry opponents describing it as a ‘misuse of NHS funds of the highest order’, with the taxpayer subsidising the privatisation of the health service.

Local residents fear privatisation could lead to the closure of Hinchingbrooke’s A&E department to save money.