A fifth hospital trust has said it will consider private franchise management.

George Eliot Hospital in the West Midlands has said it will consider a private management franchise or merger and HSJ understands it is abandoning plans to remain an independent body.

The news means there are now at least five hospitals where private franchise management is being considered: Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire and Epsom in Surrey are the subject of bids by Circle. The Whiston Hospital in the North West and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London have included private franchise management on their list of options.

As recently as June, George Eliot said it intended to remain an independent organisation as it went through the foundation trust authorisation process.

Its potential NHS merger partners are thought to include South Warwickshire Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Leicester Trust and Heart of England Foundation Trust.

The news comes four days after HSJ revealed that Circle was bidding for a second management contract at Epsom Hospital in Surrey.

A spokesman for George Eliot did not deny its independent bid had been dropped. The spokesman said: “There is a possibility that the trust may decide not to pursue FT status alone, instead joining with an alternative organisation or working in a partnership arrangement. Whatever the outcome it is essential as a trust that we remain in control of the process and any decision is based on providing the best possible care for local people now and in the future.”

The £108m-turnover trust has set a savings target of 10 per cent this financial year and is one of several district general hospitals widely thought to be too small to survive as an independent entity.

The future forms of Weston Area Health Trust and West Middlesex University Hospital are also unclear.

The Department of Health has pledged to sign off tripartite formal agreements with 72 acute trusts by the end of September setting out how and when they will achieve foundation trust status.

The deadline for trusts to submit their draft plans was March this year.

There were 15 signed off on the DH’s website this afternoon.