The five contenders through to the next stage of the competition to take over George Eliot Hospital Trust have been announced.

The West Midlands district general hospital today confirmed that private firms Care UK, Circle and Ramsay Health had moved to the next phase of the competition, alongside South Warwickshire Foundation Trust and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust.

George Eliot’s board agreed in August 2011 that the organisation had no future as an independent entity and would look to merge or be taken over by another organisation.

The Treasury and Department of Health recently agreed an unusual twin-track process which allowed bids for a takeover of the trust to be considered alongside and in competition with bids for a franchise management deal, similar to that won by Circle to run Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust in Cambridgeshire.

George Eliot hopes to identifty a preferred bidder by the end of next summer.

Kevin McGee, chief executive of the £121m-turnover hospital, said: “We want to make sure that the best possible partner is found for George Eliot and that is why we have cast our net wide across the NHS and independent sector to pull in the best possible expertise to protect and develop services for local people.

“It’s absolutely essential we are able to provide a clinically and financially sustainable future for the George Eliot, ensuring patients continue to receive high quality care.

“The next stage of the process will be important for shortlisted organisations to outline the finer detail of what they can offer, in terms of protecting and developing services to ensure local people continue to receive high quality health care for many years to come.”