NHS England has signed a three-month deal with 10 private healthcare groups, including Spire, Circle Health Group and Nuffield Health, to provide extra support as it deals with rising staff absences and the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The deal — which will start on Monday and end on March 31 — is aimed at relieving pressure on hospitals in England by encouraging them to refer patients in need of NHS elective surgery or urgent cancer work to private facilities. NHS England did not disclose the value of the agreement.
Spire Healthcare said that it would grant NHS England “access to 100 per cent of its facilities and teams on a local, regional or national basis in the event of a surge of Covid-19 patients”. However, the companies will continue to treat private patients and retain the right to choose which cases to take on.
The spread of the Omicron variant has piled pressure on England’s NHS. Last week, 17 hospitals across Manchester announced the cancellation of non-critical surgeries.
Hospitals have been asked to identify areas such as gyms and education centres to create “super surge” wards on top of their usual capacity. The government is also in the process of building additional temporary mini-Nightingale facilities on the grounds of some hospitals as part of a move to create up to 4,000 extra beds.
The need for emergency capacity follows a halving of NHS beds over the past 30 years. At the start of the pandemic, the UK had just 2.6 beds per 1,000 population, versus 6.1 in France and 8.1 in Germany, according to data from the King’s Fund.
Sir David Sloman, chief operating officer and Covid incident director at NHS England, said the deal would place “independent health providers on standby to provide further help should hospitals face unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences.
“Just like the Nightingale hubs being created across the country, we hope never to need their support but it will be there if needed,” he added.
However, there are questions over how much additional capacity will be provided given that private hospitals rely on NHS medics to carry out work.
David Rowland, of the Centre for Health and Public Interest think-tank, said: “The private hospital sector can only deliver additional capacity to the NHS by relying on NHS staff, its medical consultants. It is therefore misleading to suggest that this deal provides additional capacity to the NHS when this cannot be delivered without NHS staff, many of whom are off sick due to Omicron.”
The deal is the latest in a series of agreements with private hospitals since the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the government agreed to pay the operating costs of the private providers — including rent, interest payments and staffing — for up to one year. Much of the capacity went unused as medics, who are usually employed by the NHS but perform additional work for the private sector, were diverted to the health service.
The cost of the 2020 deal has never been officially disclosed but the new arrangement is understood to be on similar terms and will apply if there is an overwhelming surge in Covid 19 patients.
In 2021, private hospitals signed a separate £10bn, four year framework agreement to take on NHS cases to relieve long waiting lists. Last year more hip and knee replacements were delivered in private health facilities than NHS hospitals for the first time since the 1960s and 1970s, according to an analysis of official data by Candesic, the healthcare consultancy, for the Financial Times.
Credit: Source link