The first NHS hospital to be run privately has hit major financial difficulties, with administrators now considering drastic steps in order to safeguard its future.
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and Stamford NHS Trust have agreed to a review of “organisational form”.
The cash-strapped institution is faced with the prospect of merging with the NHS trust in an attempt to prevent it from collapsing completely.
But not all observers have praised the potential merger.
Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said he feared they were “weasel words” for a takeover of Hinchingbrooke.
Nonetheless, the hospitals have already announced that they intend to work together in a more collaborative fashion.
Peterborough and Stamford NHS Trust, which runs the City Hospital in Peterborough, is nearly £40 million in debt.
The trust is just one of the many in the NHS that is struggling to break even, with an overall deficit of £2 billion predicted for the health service as a whole in the existing financial year.
With the situation in Huntingdon evidently serious, decision-makers at the hospital are exploring numerous avenues.
Hinchingbrooke’s chairman Alan Burns said the two trusts would be looking at all possibilities, including a merger.
“Because [Peterborough and Stamford] are a foundation trust and we are not, if anything it would be an acquisition not a merger. We are looking at making the best use of money without a diminution of services.”
However, the resident MP of the constituency in which the Huntingdon hospital resides indicated that he was far from happy with the proposals that have been made.
Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly was explicitly critical of the planned merger.
“To move from that to an outright takeover of Hinchingbrooke by Peterborough is, as far as I and my constituents are concerned, out of the question. They say they are going to look at the ‘potential organisational form’ – at the very best that’s NHS techno speak, but at the very worst it’s weasel words for a takeover.”
With the issue becoming something of a political hot potato, the trust has indicated that it will deliver the outline business case on the future of the hospital by April of this year.
What is clear is that the financial position of the institutions are such that some form of drastic action is necessary.
In December, the National Audit Office revealed Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals’ debt for 2014-2015 was £38.5 million, while Hinchingbrooke’s deficit for the same period was £11.4 million.
It was in this context that the decision to privatise the Huntington hospital was taken.