Circle Partnership and Hinchingbrooke Hospital – a test for employee ownership?
Hinchingbrooke Hospital, described variously as “failing”, a “basket case” “indebted” was under threat of closing. Yet, the fact that the contract to run the hospital, a contact decided by open tender, was won by employee-owned Circle Partnership, has caused great controversy. There have been many snide remarks about who actually owns Circle – is it financiers in smoke filled rooms just waiting for the day they can cash in their shares? is it evil autocrats with plans to subvert our beloved National Health Service? Or is it just a group of people who want to find a way to deliver better health care?
Because that is what Circle Partnership do – deliver better care. Circle Partnership believe that clinical decisions should be made by clinicians – not bureaucrats, accountants or politicians. Circle Partnership believe that those closest to the patient, make the decisions with that patient. Circle Partnership believe that their patients deserve the best; whether that is the best in healthcare, catering, service or surroundings. As Ali Parsa says, “Why settle for good enough, when you can strive to be great”. The founders of Circle put a lot of thought into how Circle could be structured to achieve greatness, and decided that having more than 50% of the shareholding in the hands of those inside the business – rather than in corporate and external shareholders portfolios- the company could retain their vision of truly patient centred care.
Yes, Circle also have external investors. However, with a strong vision of transforming healthcare, there may have been no other way to finance their ambitious strategy.
I had the pleasure of visiting Circle Bath with some members of the Employee Ownership Association . To hear a theatre nurse say that for the first time in her career, she was treated as an equal in the operating theatre was humbling. To hear how a consultant lost his post because he refused to park in the “Staff” car park, preferring the visitor and patient parking closer to the door was inspiring. To have a porter explain that the corridor lights were placed on the walls as ceiling lights made patients on trolleys nauseous was educating. Indeed, the doors in Circle Bath corridors are undamaged, because the porter does not want to bump them with the trolley. There’s not “them and us” – everything is “ours”.
I have every confidence that the great team at Circle Health will turn around the performance at Hinchingbrooke. They will do it by involving people, informing people and listening to them. Of course, time will tell. In many ways this is a great test of employee ownership. Circle Partnership have a difficult task ahead. Those who know the business are sure they will succeed.