Three bidders have been shortlisted to win the franchise to run Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust.

They are the private companies Circle and Ramsay Health Care UK, and a partnership between firm Serco Health and Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Now we’re at the stage where the potential partners get quizzed in much more detail and have to provide hard and fast evidence of their suitability

They have been invited to discuss their proposals for the heavily indebted Hinchingbrooke Hospital with NHS East of England, commissioners, hospital staff and others.

The bidding process has attracted attention from campaigners and media because of the likelihood of a private company becoming involved in running an NHS hospital.

NHS East of England director of strategy Stephen Dunn said: “Potential partners have been sharing with us some really pioneering ideas about how they would make Hinchingbrooke sustainable, and secure its longer term future.

“An expert team has been evaluating how robust these ideas are, whether the bidders have sufficient vision, experience and a solid financial platform. Our expectations are high, and we have been very impressed with the quality.”

Hinchingbrooke chief executive Mark Millar said: “We know that patients will continue to receive NHS services, and we know that staff and assets will remain protected within the NHS.

“Now we’re at the stage where the potential partners get quizzed in much more detail and have to provide hard and fast evidence of their suitability for taking over the management of our hospital.”

Care UK and Interhealth Canada had been involved in the earlier stage of the process, as well as the above bidders. Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, the only all-NHS bidder, dropped out earlier.