Private beds contract threatens private patients’ safety

The British medical Association has expressed concern over the government’s new contract with private practice providers.

In a letter written to the national medical director of NHS England, Stephen Powis, the BMA expressed concerns about the contract  in which the NHS has reserved a significant number of private hospital beds to be used for urgent NHS care in the event of a coronavirus surge.

This is the second time this agreement has been arranged and based on the previous outcomes, the BMA is warning that this contract may have a significant negative impact on private patient care, including those receiving treatment for life threatening conditions such as cancer.

According to the doctors association, there is little evidence to suggest that the reservation of private hospital beds will increase NHS capacity and ample evidence to suggest that it will adversely impact private patient care. In March 2020, when the decision was first made, a BMA survey found that 60 per cent of the private practice doctors who responded were unable to provide care to their private patients and approximately 25 per cent reported that private patients presented later than they should have - citing NHS bed reservation and subsequent limited capacity as the reason.

The BMA is also of the view that there is a financial aspect to be considered. There has been a lack of transparency around how much was spent by the NHS on purchasing services from the private hospitals early in the pandemic without a clear indication of what the NHS received in return.

Dr Jeremy Lawrance and Dr Jennifer Yell, BMA private practice committee (PPC) co-chairs, said: “It’s shocking that the government decided to make this decision without consulting doctors working in the private sector, particularly after how unsuccessful the previous agreement was. While policy makers might think this is a good idea, doctors on the ground do not – we are of the view that this agreement will not fulfil its intention of boosting NHS capacity but rather further impact private patient care and prove to be a waste of taxpayer’s money.

“If the PPC had been asked our opinion, as we suggested in previous communications, then we would have made it very clear to policy makers that this decision will lead to patient’s conditions deteriorating and increase the private sector’s backlog. For far too long the government has sought to manage NHS underfunding with outsourcing rather than developing a credible plan to actually increase NHS hospital capacity and ensure patients receive the care they deserve in a reasonable timeframe.

“This new contract is an exercise in smoke and mirrors and the BMA are now demanding that the government listens to the views of private doctors and looks to urgently addresses our concerns before even more private patients are harmed as a result of this agreement.”

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