The private company expected to become the first to manage an NHS hospital is preparing a bid to take over a second NHS site, in partnership with a foundation trust.

Circle, the preferred bidder to take over Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust, is to make a joint bid with the Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust to take over Epsom Hospital.

Speaking exclusively to HSJ this week, Circle chief executive Ali Parsa said the company’s plan would see Epsom become part of the Royal Surrey but run as a standalone hospital, with control and responsibility handed to staff.

“What matters in Epsom now is not actually ‘here’s another hospital that will be run by another FT together with a social enterprise’,” he said. “What matters is ‘here’s another hospital that will be run from bottom up, by staff and nurses taking control’.”

Royal Surrey chief executive Nick Moberly said: “We believe that [Royal Surrey has] excellent skills to put forward to help run the Epsom site. But we do believe that Circle also brings a great deal to the party, particularly in the area of social enterprise, where they have great vision and experience in how to engage and invigorate clinical professionals at the frontline to deliver services.

“We’re very like-minded organisations, in fact – we absolutely believe in devolving accountability and responsibility for services down to professionals at the frontline.”

Asked if he was concerned that the political sensitivity around private sector involvement in NHS services might hinder the bid, Mr Moberly emphasised that the Royal Surrey would be responsible for the assets and staff at Epsom, and that staff would “continue to be part of the NHS and the broader NHS family”.

Both he and Mr Parsa insisted that Epsom was not too small to be sustainable as a standalone hospital. “We’re absolutely clear that the Epsom hospital has the potential to be a brilliant clinical campus in the longterm,” he said. “We’ve got very exciting proposals we’re working up in terms of the model of care we hope to be able to offer on the site.”

Mr Parsa said that if the cost for staff of “independence, and running their own hospital” was to make it sustainable “they [the staff] will absolutely do so”.

He added: “At the moment so much of the debate around our district general hospitals is around ‘well, we should shut them down’.

“I don’t believe these hospitals are too small. I believe we need to change the context in which we operate them, and the way we operate them, but I don’t believe that British taxpayers pay taxes in order for their hospitals not to be open.”

Circle and Royal Surrey will be up against Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Foundation Trust in competition to take over the Epsom site. Both parties will submit formal bids in November.

Jan Sawkins, independent Chair of the board set up to get Epsom and St Helier hospitals to foundation trust status, said: “We have been informed by Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust that their bid to merge with Epsom Hospital may be in partnership with Circle.  However, as is required by the rules of the transaction, the bid will continue to be led by Royal Surrey.

“The closing date for bids is 11 November and we look forward to seeing Royal Surrey’s vision for merging with Epsom, including how they plan to work with Circle.”