Union says hospital must be NHS-run, publicly funded and publicly accountable

Circle-HealthcareGMB has called a public meeting in Huntingdon on Wednesday to discuss the long-term future of Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

Together with the Hands Off Hinchingbrooke campaign, the union has arranged a meeting at 7pm in Huntingdon Methodist Church with the aim of secure the long-term future of the controversial hospital after, last week, private company Circle said it wanted to withdraw from its contract.

The union has also requested an emergency meeting with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough the CCG to discuss the situation.

GMB regional officer Steve Sweeney said: “The news comes as no surprise to those of us that have long campaigned against the Circle takeover and called for them to be ‘sacked’ as they lurched from one disaster to another.

“This shows that when the going gets tough, the private sector just cut their losses and walk away leaving the already strained public sector to pick up their mess. It gives me no great pleasure in saying that we warned that this would happen from the start. The Hinchingbrooke experiment should be held up as a stark warning of the dangers of NHS privatisation.

“Circle have timed their departure ahead of an eagerly awaited CQC report. This is expected to be highly damning of their running of the hospital, in particular relating to patient care, staffing issues, hygiene, financial instability and failure to listen to staff concerns.

Tales of financial instability plagued Circle from the start and were not aided by them asking for government bailouts to help balance the books and to stop them missing financial targets.

“GMB have questioned the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG over the future viability of the hospital for the last few months and in particular when news broke that Circle were only £150,000 short of the £5 million ceiling that could see the contract terminated. The closure of Accident and Emergency were rumoured to be being actively discussed and there were major concerns of their ability to cope with the extra pressure during the busy winter period. Despite this, we were assured before Christmas that at that stage Circle had no plans to terminate.

“The deal was initially forced through amid great secrecy and questions were not answered under the cloak of corporate confidentiality. It soon became apparent why. Circle’s projected figures were wildly optimistic and we feared that this would place jobs and services at risk.

“We warned at the time that Circle’s claim that they could make £311 million of savings over 10 years was unsustainable. The National Audit Office agreed and their report in late 2012 warned that they hadn’t factored in the risks properly and expressed concern over the level of savings that they had projected.

“Further instability at the hospital was evident with the resignation of two key figures. First to go was Circle supremo Ali Parsa, who had been parading around national media outlets citing the Circle model as the way forward for the NHS across the country. However merely 6 months in to the 10 year franchise deal he walked away. Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee said of his departure: ‘Somebody sacked you Mr Parsa to walk away with a £400,000 pay-off, most of which comes from the taxpayer’.

“Second to go was Chief Executive of then hospital Jim O’Connell. He took early retirement at the age of 50, 9 months into the deal. Staff were angry about this as they had just seen their pension age rise due to reforms to the NHS pension scheme.

“There have been cuts to staff with a renegotiation of the cleaning contract seeing staffing levels reduced to 24 and hours cut for those who remained. Worryingly almost 50 frontline nursing posts were cut. A report by the RCN in May 2014 exposed that on one ward in Hinchingbrooke, one nurse was left to look after 21 patients.

“In June 2013, an elderly trauma ward was closed to ‘streamline’ and improve services.

“The Circle tenure at Hinchingbrooke was always more spin than substance however we must now secure the long-term future of the hospital as one that is NHS run, publicly funded and publicly accountable with no more private sector experiments.”

 


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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