The Government is facing a huge backlash over controversial plans to allow private companies to take over the management of struggling NHS trusts.
Regional health authorities will be told to step in and take control of hospitals that fail to meet standards on quality, finances and care.
Underperforming board members could be removed and replaced with new management, including from other hospitals or the private sector.
Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said bringing in private firms to run hospitals was one of a range of options and insisted no NHS assets or staff would be transferred to private companies. But the plans caused fury among trade unions and health campaigners, who accused ministers of moving towards privatisation of the NHS.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, said: “The BMA would have grave concerns if the private sector took over the management of NHS trusts. Such a move would effectively see parts of the NHS become privatised.
“There is an immense amount of talent within the NHS - in leadership and management - and this should be nurtured, grown and developed to ensure NHS trusts do not find themselves in a position of failure in the first place.”
He said there was “no evidence” the private sector would do a better job.
“They would just aim to make a profit rather than the driver being the high quality care our patients need,” he said.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union which represents NHS staff and ambulance drivers, said the union “will resist this move with every sinew”.
“This announcement shows that New Labour seems on a death wish and is totally out of touch with the needs and wishes of ordinary people in this country.”
Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield became the first in the country to be run by a private company in 2003, when the Government awarded the health firm Secta a three-year franchise worth £1.3 million, writes Health Correspondent Emma Brady.
The hospital in Sutton Coldfield, which is now part of the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, had been stripped of its three-star rating following a waiting lists scandal in December 2002, which led to the departure of chief executive Jeff Chandra.
The Government then announced an emergency franchise plan to rescue the beleaguered hospital.
Good Hope was also forecasting a £11.5 million deficit for 2003/04, so health firm Secta was handed the task of turning its fortunes around from zero to being a top rated trust.
Former NHS boss Anne Heast was brought in on a secondment salary of £122,500 after she was head-hunted from her role as chief operating officer for health services in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, where she was responsible for acute, community and mental health services at four hospitals.
Ms Heast vowed to improve A&E waiting times and cut the number of cancelled operations at Good Hope.
At the time, she said: “Good Hope, like many hospitals, has its challenges yet more importantly it has many strengths, particularly a skilled and dedicated team of forward-looking clinical services and a real commitment to make the most of the franchising process.
“I want to find out everything about the hospital and its strengths -and there is no better way of doing this than by working alongside staff and seeing all aspects of hospital life through the eyes of our patients.
“I want Good Hope to be a listening organisation, one which communicates and engages well with both our staff and the community we serve, and which has a culture of trust, openness and integrity.’
Less than a year after Secta was appointed to run the hospital, it was brought back from the brink in July 2004 when it received a one-star rating from the Healthcare Commission.
But the following year Ms Heast failed to improve that rating and she quit the trusts in September 2005.
Board members sent out a plea to Heart of England and University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trusts, hoping to strike a deal to help it tackle its cash crisis. Dr Mark Goldman, who steered Heartlands to become one of the city’s first foundation trusts, signed a partnership deal with Good Hope and took over as the hospital’s chief executive in November 2005.