STRUCTURE: Independent sector provider Circle’s deal to run Hinchingbrooke hospital as a franchise has been held up due to a delay in ministerial sign off.

Circle was announced as recommended bidder for the hospital’s operating franchise on 25 November 2010.

NHS East of England confirmed that the full business case was submitted to the Department of Health and the Treasury on 1 December, but is yet to be signed off.

Hinchingbrooke’s board papers for March said “key risks” to the franchise project were “the timing of the sign off of the business case by the Department of Health and Treasury and its possible impact on the mobilisation timescale and also the signature of the commissioning contract.”

The expected sign off date was 31 March. The SHA said it received notification on 1 April from the DH that “their review was ongoing”.

The contract’s start date, anticipated to be 90 days after ministerial approval, will now be delayed beyond the proposed date of 1 June.

The SHA said it is hoped that approvals will be received soon. Circle declined to comment on the delay.

Director of strategy and provider development at NHS East of England Dr Stephen Dunn, said: “The Hinchingbrooke operating franchise is an exciting solution for a hospital which was facing an uncertain future.

“Given this level of innovation and because the hospital is in public ownership, the proposed changes needed to be scrutinised properly. The public expects this.

“We have had encouraging noises from DH and look forward to the franchise commencing as soon as possible, for the benefit of the patients, staff and taxpayers”.