Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire is set to become the first ever NHS hospital to be put into the hands of a private company, writes Social Affairs Correspondent Victoria Macdonald.

NHS hospital in private hands for the first time

NHS East of England Strategic Health Authority will tomorrow hold a board meeting where they are likely to decide on one of two preferred bidders: Serco Health and Circle Health.

Hinchingbrooke is regularly described as a "failing" hospital with a £40m deficit.

The proposal to find a franchise-holder was first made last year and the then Labour government agreed to it although let it be known that it would prefer another NHS organisation such as the nearby Addenbrooke's trust to take over but they withdrew from the bidding process.

While there could be a last minute surprise, it is thought likely the board will approve the take over. Although private companies have been involved in social care and services, this will be the first time this will have happened to an NHS district hospital.

It will now pave the way for other NHS hospitals to be taken over.

However, the unions have been assured that this does not mean wholesale privatisation. No land or assets can be sold without the specific approval of the trust. The franchise holder will have a seven to 10 year contract and the care for patients will remain free.

The franchisee will, on the other hand, have to find ways to reduce the deficit and maintain the same quality of care the hospital is currently expected to deliver.