For the first time, a private company has been handed a deal to run an NHS hospital. Circle Healthcare has been signed up to run Hinghingbrooke hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, with the deal set to officially begin in February. While some critics fear this means the end for the NHS in its old form, others argue that such deals could save the health service in the long run.
Private companies have been running specific departments within hospitals for a number of years, but the Hinchingbrooke deal is the first time that a whole hospital has been taken over in this manner. The buildings will remain public property and employees will retain all their employment rights under existing terms, so the deal is not technically being treated as a privatisation of the hospital.
The deal could allow doctors to share in the profits of the hospital. But campaigners are aghast at the commoditisation of the health care system, and at what they see as a kind of privatisation in all but name. The real test will come in 2012, when the first tangible results of the Hinchingbrooke deal become apparent. If the deal turns out to be a success, this could be the model for many other hospitals in the UK in the next few years.