Don’t let private patients jump the queue, says UNISON

NHS hospitals must stop letting private patients jump to the front of the queue for treatment in world-class facilities at bargain-basement prices, says a new report from health workers’ union UNISON released today (Wednesday).

The research suggests that stretched NHS trusts are delivering preferential care to people willing and able to pay for healthcare – diverting staff and squeezed resources away from NHS patients.

NHS guidelines are clear that if private services are to be allowed into public hospitals they must not get in the way of NHS treatment and must generate a sizable surplus to justify their access to the sophisticated support services that are not available in the private sector.

UNISON eastern region’s report How Much are Private Patients Costing the NHS? was based on the answers of 14 trusts in the east of England to Freedom of Information (FoI) questions.

These covered the numbers of private patients treated in NHS hospitals, how many accessed NHS facilities and staff, the amount it cost the NHS and how much patients and insurers were charged.

But most trusts said they couldn’t answer all the questions, with some citing commercial confidentiality and others saying they simply didn’t collect the data. If trusts don’t know how much private patients are costing them, they surely can’t know how much to charge them, says UNISON.

It appears that those trusts that did provide financial information are only generating a few hundred pounds per patient, for example Luton & Dunstable Hospital Foundation Trust billed private patients and insurers £1.83m for services costing £1.63m – an average surplus of just £335 a patient.

NW Anglia Foundation Trust apparently made around £524 profit per patient, but its figures do not include the cleaning or catering staff needed to provide its premium services, suggesting the true surplus is much lower, says the report.

The FoI replies also reveal how under-utilised the private wards are. Despite hospitals across England struggling to find empty beds for their patients, Luton’s 13-bed private ward treated just 36 inpatients per bed per year – less than one a week.

UNISON eastern region secretary Chris Jenkinson said: “Well-heeled patients shouldn’t be able to leap to the top of waiting lists, getting treated in swanky private wards on NHS sites with access to the round-the-clock first-class services that the private sector simply cannot provide.

“The NHS was founded to provide a comprehensive service to all based on need rather than the size of someone’s bank balance.

“But these trusts can’t even show that they’re getting enough cash back to justify opening their doors to the private sector to invest into NHS patients. It’s truly disgraceful.”

Report author John Lister said: “Many people have concerns about any NHS involvement in private care – but almost all will condemn the diversion of NHS funds to deliver such care at a loss, which is in clear breach of the guidelines.

“Once again questionable policies are being concealed behind a wall of secrecy. Trusts must be forced to publish the full financial picture on private patients — and to halt immediately wherever public money is being lost and resources inefficiently used.”

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