As Hinchingbrooke Hospital prepares to be taken over by Circle Healthcare, unions warn of the dangers of privatising the NHS

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Privatising hospitals is an accident waiting to happen, unions have warned.

While UNISON is concerned that Circle Healthcare’s takeover of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire could lead to a second Southern Cross crisis, Unite fears that ‘flesh was being put on the bones’ of the privatisation of the NHS, which has always been the intention of the coalition since it came to power in May, 2010.

Circle, which is part-listed on the Stock Exchange, will take over the running of the hospital in February 2012.

UNISON’s head of health Christina McAnea said: “This is an accident waiting to happen. The company is currently in a vulnerable state and the takeover could lead to a second Southern Cross, putting patients at serious risk.

“We know the government is intent on privatising our NHS – that is the clear outcome of the Health and Social Care Bill. Privatisation, which brings in the profit motive, will damage our NHS.

“Circle has the same dangerous funding set up as Southern Cross, where it leases buildings owned by companies in tax havens, rather than owning them. The company is losing contracts and millions of pounds in turnover. Circle made losses of over £27m last year and recently floated on the stock market – they look less and less like the social enterprise they claim to be. Their management band is stuffed full of bankers and managers from private industry, who have no experience of health care. Yet this is a company now responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients.

“We have huge concerns that jobs will be affected by the move, as staffing is the biggest cost area for Trusts. The company is pushing the line that staff are getting involved, while avoiding the fact that merchant bankers are the one calling the shots. It is forging ahead with plans to make a profit when it is not a profitable company in the first place – and has been predicted to have an overspend this year.

“The hospital could have been kept running for the benefit of patients, rather than profiteers. This must not become a precedent for the NHS, or millions more staff and patients will be put at risk.”

Unite’s national officer for health Rachael Maskell said: “For the last 18 months, the government has been actively gearing up to privatise the NHS – and now at the first opportunity they have done so. They are putting the flesh on the privatisation bones. Local people in the Huntingdon area will be horrified that their local, acute hospital has now been privatised.

“We predict that in 12 months time, services will decline and some hospital staff will have been made redundant or will be facing redundancy. Circle is a profit-making firm whose first priority is shareholder satisfaction, and not patient care.

“Privatisation, which is central to the Health and Social Care Bill, currently before Parliament, has taken a giant leap forward with today’s Hinchingbrooke decision.

Unite pointed out that this is a growing trend. In September, the Virgin-backed Assura Medical was announced as the preferred bidder to take-over Surrey Community Health in a £450 million deal.

GMB national officer Rehana Azam said: “We’re watching this closely from the treatment of GMB members and their patients at the Trust to the financial engineering that the health and care sectors readily use to syphon money away to tax havens from its intend caring purpose. I have commissioned our researchers, who predicted the demise of Southern Cross due to the excesses of the landlords, to do a full investigation and to follow the money.

“The Hinchingbrooke take over is no different to hedge funds coming into the sector to asset strip and it is the patients and staff that will suffer. To think a private company will have the welfare of patients and staff at the heart of its motive is just untrue. Private providers are there to make profit and this is just the start of what will happen to the NHS as the Health Bill becomes a reality. Circle has masked this takeover under the heading of social enterprising it will only be a matter of time before profit will be put before patients or those who have the cash to pay take priority.”

 


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