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Article for the News & Crier


2nd February 2012

Heading towards my eleventh year as the local MP, I fully understand how important Hinchingbrooke Hospital is to the quality of life of everyone throughout Huntingdonshire. Indeed, I have regularly defended various services and even the hospital itself, which have come under threat of closure over the last decade.

I have always felt that it is unfair to label Hinchingbrooke a ‘failing hospital’. Not least because the term does not give due credit to the many dedicated and professional members of staff that contribute so much to local people’s good experience of the hospital. Moreover most of the worst financial problems attributed to the hospital derive from its so called debts of £39m, rather than its day to day spending – which has been fairly well managed in recent years. Of course, we should all be concerned at the Care Quality Commission’s criticisms of the standard of care on offer in specific services and I have been told very recently that these issues are being sorted out urgently. To assist the management transformation process, the Coalition Government recently transferred the management of the hospital to Circle, an independent healthcare provider, on a ten year contract, which started on 1 February.

In reality, Circle have spent recent months fully integrating themselves into the hospital to ensure a smooth transition. This has, involved a level of staff engagement unprecedented in the history of the NHS.

I do appreciate that there is a remaining uncertainty with some about what this will mean for the hospital’s future and the services that it delivers. It is important to remember that the hospital has not been sold or privatised. NHS assets remain fully-owned by the NHS. NHS staff remain NHS staff on NHS terms-and-conditions. Hinchingbrooke will continue to treat NHS patients free-of-charge. Circle is contractually obliged to maintain services, meaning that frontline services such as maternity and A&E must remain, for as long as commissioners (local GPs in the future) demand them.

Circle is an established healthcare provider which already delivers NHS services to tens of thousands of patients every year. Under the terms of the contract agreement Circle is required to place Hinchingbrooke on a sustainable clinical and financial footing, and repay its £39m of legacy debts. With the signing of this contract I see a positive and now secure future for Hinchingbrooke hospital. Having spoken in the last week with Circle, existing management and staff, I sense a feeling of excitement and a local community up for the challenge.

This is a time of change in the NHS and reviews of wider Cambridgeshire provision, so my ending note of caution will be that we need to give Circle a good year or two to settle in and have the space to sort things out. During that period, it would seem unwise for commissioners to impose changes to the hospital’s services.
As always I encourage feedback from my constituents. Please feel welcome to contact me about this or any other issue that may be of importance to you.



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