COMMERCIAL: Circle has given share options to Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust’s charitable fund on the eve of its departure from the hospital.

The company said awarding the options was a “gesture of our support” to the Cambridgeshire district general hospital’s staff.

In January Circle announced it was pulling out of its 10 year contract to manage Hinchingbrooke, the first NHS trust in the country to be operated by a private company.

Steve Melton

The share option is a ‘gesture of our support’ for Hinchingbrooke staff, Steve Melton said

The announcement came shortly before the release of a highly critical Care Quality Commission, which rated the hospital “inadequate” and resulted in it being placed in special measures.

Circle is set to hand control of the trust back to the NHS at midnight.

The company is giving 310,000 share options to the trust’s charitable funds committee, which it said was “in recognition of the dedication and hard work” of the staff over the three years of Circle’s franchise.

Under the options Circle will sell shares in AIM listed Circle Holdings, the parent company of Circle Health, at a set price of 2p at or after the end of this year.

Circle’s share price fluctuates so there is no fixed value to the donation.

However, if the shares were trading at their current share price of 42p at the end of 2015 and the committee decided to translate the options into shares and sell them immediately, it would make a profit of £124,000.

There are no restrictions on how the committee can use the proceeds from the donation, but Circle has asked that it be used “for the benefit of staff”.

Steve Melton, Circle chief executive, said: “We remain proud of everything achieved at Hinchingbrooke over three years: its story is one of huge improvement.

“We believe in clinical leadership. So it’s right that as we come to the end of our time at the hospital, we make a gesture of our support for the doctors, nurses, porters, chefs, cleaners, allied health professionals, administrators and assistants of Hinchingbrooke.

“This can only be a token of how we feel, but we hope that it can be put to good use. Our simple message to the staff of Hinchingbrooke is thank you.”

Circle has said that its stewardship of the hospital has improved a number of performance metrics and saved the taxpayer over £23m.

However, Jo Rust, Unison’s Eastern regional director, claimed Circle had left a “toxic legacy” at Hinchingbrooke.

She said: “They haven’t made any inroads [into paying off Hinchingbrooke’s debt], as a matter of a fact, before they’ve gone they’ve had to borrow even more.”

The trust warned last month that its deficit for 2014-15 could exceed £12m, and it has applied for a government bailout of £9.6m.

Ms Rust added that she was sceptical about the share options award.

“One of their biggest factors that was touted about [Circle running Hinchingbrooke] was that it was going to be a John Lewis type partnership, and the staff were all going to be members and get shares in it.

“That has never materialised, staff have got nothing as a result of it,” she said.