The outcome of a competitive process that will see a private firm involved in the running of an NHS hospital for the first time is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

Two bidders remain in the running for the operating franchise for Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust after Ramsay Health Care UK dropped out last week, NHS East of England has confirmed.

Circle Health and Serco Health have submitted bids which meet [the invitation to participate] requirements and these are now in the process of being evaluated

Details of bids from Circle Health and a joint venture between Serco Health and Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Foundation Trust are being further reviewed by the strategic health authority, trust and commissioners during the summer.

The shortlist was reduced from six to three in March, although 11 organisations had originally expressed an interest.

SHA director of strategic projects Andrew MacPherson said it was decided Ramsay’s plans were no longer suited to the trust’s circumstances. No details of any of the plans have so far been made public.

He said a final invitation to tender would be issued in October and a decision made public in November or December.

An NHS East of England spokesperson said: “Circle Health, Serco Health and Ramsay Healthcare were invited to submit bids as part of the second stage of invitation to participate in dialogue. Circle Health and Serco Health have submitted bids which meet [the invitation to participate] requirements and these are now in the process of being evaluated.

“Ramsay Health Care, the third bidder, has chosen to submit a bid which does not meet those requirements, therefore it is not possible for [that] bid to be evaluated and they will not be taken to the invitation to tender stage.”

The trust, which runs a small district general hospital in Cambridgeshire, has struggled financially and is thought unlikely to reach foundation status in its present form.

Unions have criticised the decision to tender the franchise to the market.