Private hospital groups set to take advantage of massive NHS backlog in wave of new deals
The government is in talks with private health care operators to free up thousands of NHS beds for those most in need of care during the winter months and reduce growing waiting lists.
A wave of new deals between the NHS and independent hospital companies is expected to cost the taxpayer more than £ 2bn, with the contracts earning nearly £ 200m in profits for healthcare providers.
The move is part of the government’s efforts to avoid any further lockdowns, whether due to an increase in Covid cases or other pressure on the NHS.
As revealed by I Over the weekend, the government drew up contingency plans for further local, regional or national lockdowns in England, but hopes agreements to create around 7,000 additional beds in private hospitals will help avoid reintroduction Covid restrictions.
The signing of new contracts with the private sector follows a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that NHS waiting lists could almost triple to 14 million by the fall of next year .
A spokesperson for NHS England claimed that such agreements between the NHS and private health care groups are made “at the same cost to the taxpayer” as NHS services. However, similar contracts throughout the pandemic agreed to a “cost plus” pricing formula, which pays profits of between 8 and 10% to hospital groups.
Private hospital groups such as Circle Health, Ramsay Health Care and Spire Healthcare are believed to be among those discussing new, expanded agreements with the Department of Health and Welfare.
Private healthcare companies have been embroiled in the pandemic since it hit the UK last March, with more than £ 2bn already spent on deals to provide non-urgent care, as well as to build capacity additional for Covid patients.
However, the new agreements are expected to increase the participation of independent companies in elective procedures such as hip replacement operations, plastic surgery and many other elective procedures.
The growing role of private operators in public health will increase fears of a rampant privatization of the medical supply. However, the government insists that the sole purpose of its contingency planning is to ease the pressure on the NHS in the months to come.
In addition to the increase in Covid cases, the NHS is expected to be affected by a large resurgence of other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.
The NHS is also suffering from understaffing as record numbers have been forced to take sick leave, and many more are trying to make up for lost time at the height of the pandemic.
Dr John Puntis, co-chair of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, has warned that adding private hospital beds will still not recoup the drop in the number of NHS beds available since the pandemic struck.
“As a result of efforts to prevent cross-infection, hospitals have 12% fewer beds and are already operating at 95% of capacity,” said Dr Puntis. “With a huge increase in non-Covid respiratory illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia this winter, alongside sickness levels of NHS staff, things are sure to get very difficult after the summer.”
NHS England spokesperson added: ‘The NHS has already made good use of the additional investment provided due to Covid, with many services rising or close to pre-pandemic levels’