Hinchingbrooke Hospital franchise experiment – apportioning the blame

hospital_noticeboard08:18 Wednesday 18th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The taxpayers have been left exposed by the failure of the Hinchingbrooke Hospital franchise. That is the very damning conclusion of the group of MPs who sit on the Public Accounts Committee. Private company Circle handed back the franchise to run the hospital just three years into a ten year contract. Well the Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. He joins us now from our studio there. Good morning Stewart.
STEWART JACKSON: Good morning Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Who’s fault is all this?

STEWART JACKSON: Well I think it’s a combination of faults actually. It’s principally the fault of the Trust Development Authority which was the overseeing body, which should have been properly monitoring and regulating the contract that was made by the previous Labour Government with Circle Healthcare. But it was also Circle Healthcare in that they overestimated their projections of how successful or not financially the Hospital Trust would be. And of course the Care Quality Commission, with their rather bizarre findings, which ran against the previous findings which were that the Hospital was performing well. And of course the Department of Health.
CHRIS MANN: One of our listeners emailed me this morning. says : “How can Circle just walk away from a ten year contract and leave us the taxpayer with the bill? That’s what I want to know.” Do you understand his frustration?
STEWART JACKSON: Yes I do, and I think the problem is that the Government has to, when they’re considering these future franchise agreements, if there are ever ones as big as this, which was an acute district hospital, have to have realistic figures. The problem was they didn’t take into account the fact that the population would change, the pressures on A&E would be very substantial. They overestimated the projections of income. And there was virtually no month on month, day to day oversight and scrutiny of the contract by the Government or the regulator. And you’re quite right. What we’ve been left with is the taxpayer having to pick up the tab, not just for the deficit that’s been run up at the Hospital, but also for the cost of transition back into the public sector.
CHRIS MANN: So should Circle be chased for that money, and should they be banned from any other work in the NHS until they’ve paid it?
STEWART JACKSON: I’m not sure whether that is the right way forward, because at the end of the day what we’re looking at is a very popular community hospital that people fought hard to keep open, if you remember, about six or eight years ago. And it was doing quite well. I think the problem is that the system was wrong. It was flawed. And there weren’t enough people keeping an eye on the figures. I do think in fairness though Circle overestimated what income would come in, and they didn’t look at the demographic change, particularly the sort of pressure they would have from say older patients
CHRIS MANN: But they were taking a punt on the NHS, weren’t they? They’re a private company. They were in it to try and make money, and they were taking a punt that they could somehow get things to work and make a lot of money.
STEWART JACKSON: Yes. I think it’s fair that that’s what they were in the business of doing. But they also provided very good clinical care. They had good support from their clinicians and support ..
CHRIS MANN: For a short time. They failed us in the end.
STEWART JACKSON: Well yes they did. But it was a combination of factors. It was a combination of unprecedented demand in clinical care, particularly at Accident and Emergency. It was a combination of them getting their figures wrong at the beginning. And also the Care Quality Commission with their inconsistent findings. A year before they said that Hinchingbrooke was one of the worst inspections they’d done, Hinchingbrooke was winning customer care awards.
CHRIS MANN: So no more of these experiments with what is a highly treasured hugely valuable part of the service to the people of this country.
STEWART JACKSON: Well I don’t know about ..
CHRIS MANN: By which I mean the NHS.
STEWART JACKSON: I think the era of private franchise for a district general hospital is quite some way away. And let’s call a spade a shovel. The fact is Andy Burnham when he was Labour Health Secretary signed off three of these providers to go forward. It was a privatisation. The first privatisation in the NHS. Hasn’t been a success.
CHRIS MANN: And was Andrew Lansley looking the other way during his tenure as Health Secretary?
STEWART JACKSON: Well potentially there were mistakes made because officials said everything’s fine, the contract is watertight, people are happy with the Hospital. But that wasn’t the case, and I think we all need to learn the lessons, because this is obviously going to cost the taxpayer money.
CHRIS MANN: It is. Stewart Jackson, thank you so much for joining us. The MP for Peterborough there with his reaction to that conclusion, official conclusion by the group of MPs which he sits on, the Public Accounts Committee. The taxpayers have been left exposed.