Hinchingbrooke Hospital – a hospital in crisis or a political football?

The recent news that the only privately run NHS hospital in Britain is not financially viable is a wake up call for how hospitals are financed.

All other NHS hospitals do not have the option to “end the contract” and would have to run a deficit or slash services, both likely to attract a lot of attention. For some reason, this would be tolerated.

Privately run NHS hospitals could significantly improve efficiency. Simple commercial choices of where to buy furniture rather than using the default NHS procurement route saved a lot of money at Hinchingbrooke with no negative impact on patients. Simple, sensible and freed up money for services.

But these innovative approaches to running NHS hospitals are opposed by some who work within the NHS. A lot of opposition is based on a fundamental belief that it is more important for the NHS to be run in public hands than for it to be run better. This feels like political dogma and acts as a brake to improvements.

I understand change can be a unsettling but it is the duty of everyone to give these alternative ways of running a hospital a chance. Some changes may make improvements for patients, staff and the tax payer.

But the real worry is the recent CQC report on the hospital. These inspections can be very useful to help give reassurance that the hospital is being run well and in the interests of the people it serves.

The recent inspection did not go well. In fact, it went very badly, which is surprising given that so many people believe that the hospital was providing a great service.

Yet, in May, the hospital won a prestigious “quality care” award for being statistically Britains best performing hospital.

Equally surprising is the fact that 40 of the Hinchingbrooke doctors feel that the CQC report was wrong and have written to the BMJ suggesting the criticisms are based on subjective rather than facts and figures.

Interestingly, Hinchinbrookes figures for A&E treatment times and mortality turn out to be better than the national average.

The rules and guidance for people who operate in public life are clear. Without going into all the detailed guidance the general thrust is towards complete openness, transparency, honesty, leadership and behaviour that helps to give confidence that the activities are conducted correctly and without favour.

As a councillor we had to declare all interests that might potentially affect our judgement. We did this at every meeting that decisions were made at. Officers had to be non political.

If the media is to believed, I’m not sure this has happened in the case of Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the recent CQC inspection and in the funding of the hospital.

I’m not suggesting vested interests have conspired to bring about the failure of this privately run NHS hospital but there appears to be a lack of transparency.

It has been suggested that a wannabe MP for the Hinchingbrooke area had some input in shaping the report. If so was this vested interest made absolutely clear in the report.

Was the funding from the Clinical Commissioning Group normal or was it subject to an usual funding cut. Did the political affiliation of any of the CCG board have any bearing on this? We’re political affiliations made clear in the interest of preventing the doubt that has crept into the process?

Now I understand, better than most, the need to sometimes take a political stand. Sometimes born of a philosophical position, sometimes because of experience and common sense.

But I do hope Hinchingbrooke has not been the victim in a political row over how the NHS is run to the detriment of local people.

Names and political parties deliberately not mentioned to ensure this blog is not another political football.

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