COMMERCIAL: George Eliot Hospital Trust has been given permission to go to market to seek a “strategic partner” to secure its long-term future.

It has been announced today that the financially troubled trust’s proposal to invite bids from both public and private sector organisations has been approved by the Midlands and East strategic health authority cluster.

A trust statement said today: “It is in the best interests of the hospital, its patients and staff to seek a partner via a competitive procurement process”.

Options available to bidders include either taking over the trust or running it as a franchise, along the lines of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust’s arrangement with Circle Health.

HSJ understands although the decision was technically the SHA’s to make the process has been closely overseen by the Department of Health.

The decision follows a National Audit Office report and a Public Accounts Committee hearing on Circle’s management franchise at Hinchingbrooke.

The tendering process is expected to take a year. An advertisement asking for formal applications will now be placed in the Official Journal of the European Union and on the NHS Supply2Health website. Bidders will have to prove their “capacity and capability” to take part in the process via a pre-qualification questionnaire.

Chief executive Kevin McGee said: “Following feedback and discussions regarding our plans, we are delighted to have received approval from NHS Midlands and East Strategic Health Authority to proceed. 

“We have a firm vision for the future, and are looking forward to seeing what potential partners can bring to the table. Regardless of the organisation which is chosen through this procurement process, I can assure you that staff and assets will remain a part of the NHS, and patients will continue to receive NHS services.”

The proposal was drawn up after the trust admitted it would not be able to reach foundation status on its own.

Among the organisations on a shortlist of suitors are Circle Health, Serco, Care UK, South Warwickshire Foundation Trust, the Dudley Group Foundation Trust and Burton Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Glen Burley, chief executive of South Warwickshire Foundation Trust, said he believed a merger between his organisation and George Eliot was “the best model for the delivery of healthcare for our local communities”. His trust will be bidding in partnership with Serco, who will provide “expertise in the bidding process as well as skills that will help us transform health services across Warwickshire”.

Mr Burley added that adopting an integrated approach to acute and community services across the whole county, could replicate benefits he said had been seen in south Warwickshire, such as reduced length of hospital stay and reduced death rates.