The managing director of healthcare at Care UK has used an HSJ interview to express optimism that the company can increase its share of NHS provision, including through taking over the running of hospitals.
Former NHS England director of transformation Jim Easton disclosed that his new employer − whose business spans acute and social care primary care and NHS 111 services − was in discussions with a number of NHS trusts about expanding its provision of elective services.
Mr Easton said: “We think there’s scope to grow in parts of the NHS where we already are. There’s [also] a range of those conversations happening with NHS organisations in areas where we don’t have a presence.
“In some instances this means talking about running elective services inside a hospital or building a facility that will do some of that.”
Care UK is bidding to win the £800m contract to provide older people’s services for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group.
However, Mr Easton raised the possibility that Care UK could operate challenged hospital trusts on a franchise basis, beyond its existing bid to run George Eliot Hospital Trust in Warwickshire. The outcome of this will be determined in the summer.
“We believe we’ve got a compelling offer to support some of those challenged hospitals in the future,” he said. “So, yes, we’re interested [in taking on more hospital contracts] but you shouldn’t see this as just some kind of production line of contracts.”
Asked if he foresaw the company running a national chain of NHS hospitals, Mr Easton said: “What I think needs to happen is that you need scale to enable some local solutions.”
He argued Care UK could offer a “hybrid” solution, combining “what the NHS does fantastically well and what organisations like ours do well”, offering an alternative to trusts joining up.
“In the NHS there are people who work next door to each other who are never going to be partners,” he added. “Staff in that place have spent their whole working life feeling that they were desperately in competition with the people next door.”
The company currently runs 11 independent sector treatment centres and Mr Easton indicated this number could increase as parts of the acute sector struggled to cope with the huge demand for services.
“For large parts of the year a lot of elective capacity is being constrained in hospitals,” Mr Easton said.
“It may become attractive to people to want to find a more dedicated capacity partner who can deliver their dedicated elective services well.”
Mr Easton also said that he felt the same “moral obligation” to work towards improving NHS care while working for the private provider as he did while directly employed by the health service until October 2012.
“I don’t feel I have left the NHS,” he said. “I feel very much a part of the moral obligation [to integrate and find savings] in this role as a provider as I did in my national role.”
Mr Easton also gave details of the role Philippa Slinger would play when she joins Care UK management next month, after stepping down as chief executive of Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals Foundation Trust.
He said Ms Slinger, Care UK’s new head of acute care, will be tasked with overseeing the company’s 11 independent sector treatment centres providing elective surgery.