27 March 2014 — OurNHS
The planned sell-off of George Elliott hospital has been cancelled, hailed as a victory for common sense by unions and campaigners.
Controversial moves to offer the running of George Elliott NHS hospital to private companies have been abandoned, it was announced today.
The Trust put the shock u-turn down to improved performance, with A&E and mortality figures now in line with the average or better. Chief Executive Kevin McGee saying “Recent improvements have surpassed what we expected and this has led to us re-evaluating the process to secure a sustainable future for the Trust.”
George Elliott was to have been only the second hospital in the country – after Hinchingbroke – to consider a franchise style arrangement to take over the hospital. The final three bidders in the running were private companies Circle UK (the hedge fund backed ‘social enterprise’ that runs Hinchingbroke) and fellow Tory donor-owned Care UK, up against South Warwickshire NHS Trust. A second NHS Trust was controversially excluded from bidding last month due to the size of its PFI debts.
Unions and campaigners had fought the planned outsourcing hard – only last week pressing their case with the Trust Development Authority while community campaigners held a demonstration at its offices in London.
Unite national officer Rachael Maskell welcomed the development, saying “This outcome is of national significance and should be used as a model for turning around local hospitals which experience difficulties. Selling off the NHS to the private sector is not the answer.”
But questions are no doubt likely to be asked about how much has been spent so far pursuing the abandoned outsourcing for the last two years, and why it was ever considered.
George Elliott is one of many smaller hospital trusts struggling to achieve Foundation Trust status, which requires hospitals to reconcile funding cuts with ensuring quality is not compromised.
Alongside 14 other Trusts it was placed in ‘special measures’ last year and received mentoring from Birmingham University Hospital. So far only George Elliott and Weston hospital in the South West had gone down the Hinchingbroke route of offering up the entire hospital to private sector management.
Earlier this month new Care Quality Commissioner boss David Prior, a former Conservative MP, drew sharp criticism when he called for more Hinchingbroke-style private hospital takeovers.
Under the Health & Social Care Act 2012 all Trusts must soon become semi-independent Foundation Trusts – but the business-like model, originally for flagship hospitals only, is seen as particularly unsuitable for smaller hospital trusts.
Last year the regulator Monitor announced it was suspending the creation of new Foundation Trusts given these concerns.
The future of the Foundation Trust model remains unclear. McGee told the Health Services Journal that he ‘did not know’ whether George Elliott could still make Foundation Trust status.
For smaller Trusts up and down the country, some have suggested ‘bundling’ hospitals together as an alternative – though whether this would be under NHS management, or run by private foreign companies as David Prior suggests, remains to be seen.
About the author
Caroline Molloy is Editor of OurNHS and a freelance writer. In 2011/12 she was part of a successful campaign which reversed one of the largest planned NHS privatisations in the country, involving 9 Gloucestershire hospitals. Since then she has been campaigning alongside local and national groups to defend the NHS.