2nd August 2012 

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News and Comment from Roy Lilley

How difficult do you think it would be to hack off most of the NHS and make the BBC look really stupid - all before lunchtime?  Ali Parsa, at Circle, made it look easy.

On Tuesday they 'celebrated' their first few months in charge at Hinchingbrooke and apparently, fed the BBC's @adambrimelow a load of codswallop.  In consequence this load of bunkum appeared on the BBC web-site. The unusually gullible Today Programme made it their lead story!

As you can imagine, Twitter exploded with outrage. By eight o'clock it looked like Today's editors twigged they'd been had and hauled their Home Affairs editor in front of a microphone to do a flim-flam  'wrap-around' piece saying how important the success of Circle is to the Coalition. He was followed by Parsa, Circle's braggadocio boss. Groan.

What are the real facts? Circle is a start-up company saddled with huge debts. It claims to be a social enterprise, majority owned by the employees. I don't think so.  And, I'm told, for the past 3 months, they've not fielded a manager to attend the local Social Partnership Forum?

They've been given Hinchingbrooke to run. They didn't buy the business, or purchase the NHS franchise. Hinchingbrooke, described in Parliament as a 'basket case', was actually a popular local hospital shoved into a daft PFI by the SHA. Then along came PbR, and the local health economy overheated.  Too many hospitals. 

Circle claims to have been the saviour of Hinchingbrooke. It is nothing of the sort. According to the NHS Gooroo, their waiting time data shows little change in the long waits with a rising list size in orthopaedics, ENT, Ophthalmology and gynae.

Nursing care at Hinchingbrooke has been consistently excellent, well before Circle. At present the SHA are still responsible for finance and governance of the hospital. Insiders tell me there is a report, partly leaked, suggesting a radical restructuring of services and staff. If this is right they will be obliged to consult on the changes. Will they keep the A&E? Expect the middleclass laptop warriors to create a war.

Standards; Insiders tell me nurses report more senior nurse visibility in the clinical areas. Good. However, when it comes to patient experience Circle have done nothing to improve it. Hinchingbrooke has always been a top performing hospital for patient experience. Their claim to have come top in a patient survey is not quite right, they came joint first with the excellent Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt NHS Trust Hospital in Shropshire. Conveniently overlooked.

Circle took over an award winning NHS kitchen and staff. Excellent restaurant always full. I think every shopper in Huntingdon goes for lunch.

Patients choosing to go to Circle? There were 150 overspill hips done because neighbouring Addenbrookes was full. I know of no other evidence?  Is there referral pattern data?

Parsa says his secret is putting clinicians in charge and talking to the staff. How, would he imagine, do the greats of the NHS manage to run huge teaching hospitals? Why is UCLH world class and #fabulousfrimleypark, so good? Top NHS managers have been 'managing-by-walking-about' since Tom Peters was a lad in short trousers.

Parsa boasts they are saving money; so is every hospital in the NHS and this looks like overspends to me. Parsa brags they are going great guns with waiting lists; not really, he is holding his own, like everyone else. Parsa swaggers he has invented a management style based on talking to his staff; so does every other CEO in every well-run hospital. Parsa crows he's cut procurement costs; all Trusts are doing the same, ask the Hubs.


Hinchingbrooke is being well run by good people working hard, so why does Parsa's Circle incite the ire of the cognoscenti?  Because it looks like it's 'Parsa's Circle'.  Whatever he claims to the contrary, it's the Parsa show and it's a PR gaffe.

Let's face it; Parsa is a banker and we all know there isn't a family in the UK that isn't suffering because of bankers. He is losing the PR battle. Every time he opens his mouth he insults the intelligence of NHS managers and staff who have worked tirelessly and heroically under one numbskull government after another.

He should step back, hire a nurse communicator to be the voice and face of Hinchingbrooke and ask her to say something like; "We are working hard and we think we are getting to be as good as the best in the NHS".  


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