What will we learn from private provider Circle’s success in becoming the preferred and only bidder for the contract to manage Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust?
It will not be whether this route to involving private sector management is a practical solution to running struggling NHS trusts. Hinchingbrooke is one of those trusts fundamentally challenged by its location and the financial implications. Its future will – and should – be decided by the decisions of local commissioners.
The convoluted procurement process frustrated even the successful bidder. Few other private companies would have the patience and determination to submit to a similar process.
The Circle win is not the start of a push to outsource hospital management to the private sector. That might come, but we are still awaiting its vanguard.
What we might learn from the Hinchingbrooke deal concerns Circle’s approach to clinical and staff engagement and its impact on improvement.
Circle is a semi-social enterprise, with just under 50 per cent of the business owned by its employees. It is the ethos which flows from this ownership model which, for example, Circle claims is behind the improvement in the performance of the independent treatment centres it has run for the past three years.
Managing partner Ali Parsa has said he will “absolutely” enable Hinchingbrooke staff to become Circle “owners”.
Because of the history of the deal, Hinchingbrooke will not become a foundation trust and, therefore, loses some room for manoeuvre on how it manages trust staff. However, should staff become advocates for the Circle approach over the next few years, then the cultural impact on the NHS will be more profound than the results of any reductive argument about the merits of private versus NHS management.