The Cambridgeshire hospital owes the NHS £40m
A hospital in Cambridgeshire with a debt of nearly £40m has been given approval by the government to seek a partner to run it as a franchise.
Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon said the new partner would ensure a sustainable future and deal with "historical financial issues".
In 2008, the hospital was one of 20 earmarked for private management.
Campaigners have previously condemned the plans, alleging that they focus on profits not patients.
A spokeswoman for NHS Cambridgeshire said all staff would continue to be employed by the NHS, which will still own the hospital and its assets.
The "national competitive process" to find the best partner follows a public consultation in 2007 to retain Hinchingbrooke as a district general hospital, she added.
In order to be considered, potential partners must show that their bids improve services and quality for patients and the public and provide good value for money for the taxpayer, she continued.
Dr Stephen Dunn, director of strategy at NHS East of England, said the news would come as a "great relief" to those concerned about the future of the hospital.
"It begins to end months of uncertainty for Hinchingbrooke," he added.
Hinchingbrooke Hospital has accumulated a debt to the NHS of nearly £40m.
In October, the Save Hinchingbrooke Hospital Group marched the streets in protest against the plans.