A financially challenged hospital is considering partnering with the private sector, despite government claims that no NHS trusts planned to follow the “Hinchingbrooke model”.

Partnership with an independent sector provider is on a shortlist of six options under consideration by George Eliot Hospital Trust in Warwickshire.

The news comes as healthcare firm Circle begins its 10-year franchise of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust.

Health minister Simon Burns told MPs in November that none of the “tripartite formal agreements” signed by 20 trusts facing serious financial challenges included plans for similar franchises.

However, a private sector partner was among options listed in the agreement signed by George Eliot and the government in September. NHS Midlands and East director of policy and strategy Stephen Dunn this week told HSJ it was still under consideration.

“Understandably, George Eliot’s board is considering the Hinchingbrooke plans and process to understand what benefits might be available to local people, local patients and the taxpayer,” he said.

He added: “The fact that the Hinchingbrooke contract has been both approved and subjected to quite a rigourous assessment by the Treasury and the DH underscores that it’s a robust decision.

“Clearly this will be one of the options that can be looked at for organisations facing a not-dissimilar future to Hinchingbrooke. That doesn’t mean it’s the only option.”

A Department of Health spokesperson insisted that “when Hinchingbrooke was announced it was - and remains - a unique model”.

“We understand there is one trust which wishes to explore a range of options which might include partnerships with the independent sector,” he added. “However, how this would work, and exactly what model this might be, is yet to be determined locally.”