Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital privatisation shows what private companies can do for the National Health Service
The success of Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital privatisation is a coup for the supporters of innovation in the National Health Service, says Chris Skidmore MP. News that Hinchingbrooke hospital, the first NHS hospital to be run by a private company, has seen remarkable improvements in the last six months, seems to have passed almost unnoticed by the media.
Cautious optimism is the correct approach to take, but the news of falling waiting lists, higher quality service and greater efficiency should be welcomed by all.
It is, in particular, a victory for those who have backed reform and innovation in the NHS to ensure that the service remains world-class and sustainable, and a massive setback for Labour’s doom- laden, opposition-for-opposition’s-sake approach that has gone so badly wrong for Andy Burnham.
Indeed, Burnham has managed to be on the wrong side of the argument at every possible stage.
When Circle took over Hinchingbrooke, he claimed that the decision “has worrying implications for the future of our NHS” and has remained highly critical of the move ever since. One would have thought that he would want to play up the fact that Labour initiated the tendering procedure whilst he was Secretary of State.
The truth is however, that to praise the remarkable turnaround would be to admit that he and his party’s two years spent opposing all NHS reform have been utterly wasted.
So what are Circle doing right? They took over a hospital with £40 million of debt, under a new arrangement that would allow them to take the first £2 million of any profit made. They have started down the line to restoring Hinchingbrooke’s finances by making significant savings – through private sector management practices and better procurement.
Ali Parsa points out that on paper supplies alone they have saved £1.6 million. Cleaners have been shifted to clinical areas, rather than offices and residential areas, saving money whilst simultaneously improving hygiene where it matters.
This has all been led by making sure that doctors and nurses are in charge of their services- and using Circle’s private sector expertise to equip them with management skills. Even in accident and emergency – an area where private providers have not historically excelled- Circle have managed to lift Hinchingbrooke’s performance to rank with the best in the country.
Hinchingbrooke’s A&E department is now rated the best in the Midlands and East of England.
Above all, Circle’s greatest strength has been to involve professionals not only in clinical decision making, but in every aspect of health care. Their John Lewis-style partnership model- where doctors, nurses and other staff own 50 per cent of the company- has proved vital for delivering change. As Chief Executive Ali Parsa points out, “Without this model of ownership we couldn’t do what we are doing.”
The lesson for the rest of the NHS is simple. The more control that clinical staff have over the services that they provide the better- particularly in an ownership model that gives them real incentives to do well.
The example of Circle’s success should certainly be encouraging for social enterprises that wish to take over the running of NHS services. Hinchingbrooke also shows what a relentless focus on cutting waste and increasing efficiency can do- even the most financially profligate of trusts can be redeemed with new expert management.
It would perhaps be appropriate to conclude with something that Polly Toynbee wrote back in 2009- the doyenne of NHS scaremongering who should today feel that at least one of her articles has been vindicated. It was after all, Toynbee who said that, “There is no doubt that putting some services out to tender has vastly improved certain standards over the years, broken the power of vested interests and brought in competition that has sharpened up results …
So the answer is flexibility and practicality; see what works best and keep ideology at bay as far as possible.” Amen to that.
Chris Skidmore MP is a Member of the Health Select Committee
Tags: Conservatives, Health, Health Professionals, healthcare, Labour shambles, National Health Service, NHS, nhs cash shortages, private health