Speaking ahead of Monday's Public Accounts Select Committee hearing on Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust, co-leader of the NHA Party, Dr Clive Peedell said: "Tory and Labour politicians seem happy wasting time pointing fingers at one another over who is responsible for the fiasco of awarding Hinchingbrooke hospital to Circle in the first place. It's time to put aside the political wrangling and focus on the facts and to lift the veil of commercial confidentiality." Dr Peedell gave NHAP's questions for the inquiry to answer:
- We want to see publication of the full accounts of the Trust – including where any cash from selling the hospital's assets has gone to. Under its contract, Circle acted in effect as the directors of the Trust. So were there any land sales made – and if so, did the proceeds go to Circle or to the Trust?
- We want a full audit to show how much this whole exercise has cost the NHS, including the cost of management time while negotiating the contract and what will be need to be spent by the NHS as it picks up the pieces.
- The boss of NHS East of England has already been asked searching questions by the Accounts Committee about how the whole project was floated. These must now be followed up.
- We want to know why, when Circle won the deal on the basis of offering even bigger savings than other contenders over 10 years, were they not required to set out any plans for how this might be done?
- We want to know why, when Circle changed their contract after they were selected, delaying the time when they would repay the debts of £40 million, was this change agreed to rather than going back to the other bidders?
- We want the senior regional NHS managers who were involved in the decision-making process in regard to the award of the Hinchingbrooke franchise to be held fully to account for their actions.
- We demand that Hinchingbrooke hospital be brought immediately back into the NHS, and swift measures taken to support staff to ensure high quality care and patient safety. It must not be put out again to private tender.
Commenting further Dr Clive Peedell said: "Hinchingbrooke is the second hospital that has been franchised to a private company, and the second time that the private company concerned has failed to fulfil its side of the bargain. In 2003, the Good Hope hospital in Birmingham was franchised for three years; the contract was ended eight months early after the hospital deficit rose from £839,000 to £3.5 million. We have confirmation in Hinchingbrooke, if confirmation were needed, that the private sector is not a panacea when it comes to running NHS district general hospitals.
Continuing Dr Peedell said: "Many private firms have now pulled out of tendering for NHS services because they don't see any profit in them. A recent £800m contract for elderly care in Cambridgeshire ended up being awarded to an NHS-led consortium, but not before a million pounds was wasted on the tendering process. In Kent, the private company Concordia Health pulled out of running Kent GP practices leaving thousands of patients told to find a new doctor.
"Privatising the entire NHS is clearly not a viable scenario for the private sector. Its interest remains in cherry-picking elective services and other sectors where they may be able to squeeze a profit. The damage this does to the NHS as a whole, both financially and it terms of care, is evident and growing. The billions of pounds wasted on the huge administrative and legal costs of the competitive market are billions that are being diverted away from patient care." Dr Clive Peedell added.