NHS trusts with record waiting lists are promoting “quick and easy” private healthcare services at their own hospitals, offering patients the chance to skip the yearlong queues, the Observer can reveal.
The hospitals offer hip replacements from £10,000, cataract surgery for £2,200 and hernia repairs for £2,500. MRIs are offered for between £300 and £400.
This occurs when the figures show a record 7.21 million people are waiting for NHS treatment in England, with routine breaches of the maximum 18-week waiting time for non-urgent referrals. Health experts warn about the risk of creating a “two-tier” health service. A Observer research has found:
East Sussex healthcare NHS has thousands of patients waiting for diagnostic tests, but offers “quick access” to scans through its private division.
Great Western Hospitals NHS Trust in Wiltshire warns patients that services are “extremely busy”, while its private division promotes self-pay treatment for those who “don’t want to wait for an NHS referral”.
The NHS trust in James Paget University Hospitals in Norfolk is advertising private services on your NHS websitestating: “We provide services led by highly experienced consultants…without the waiting list.”
Premium treatments are offered through private patient units owned and operated by NHS trusts and are usually located on hospital premises. The procedures are often carried out by the same staff who would eventually treat the patients if they remained on the NHS waiting list. Under a code of conduct, private services cannot affect NHS patient careand the profits go back to the health service.
at the sussex premiere HealthPart of the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, MRIs are done within 48 hours for £379, according to a recent Instagram promo. The trust has more than 7,800 patients awaiting diagnostic tests.
Great Western NHS Trust Hospitals in Wiltshire offer private healthcare through a 20-bed unit, the Shalbourne Suite. The private website for patients says: “We believe that quality healthcare should be easily accessible.”
A woman whose elderly mother was cared for by the trust in October says she was told she could skip the long waiting lists if she paid. “My 86-year-old mum will have to wait two years on the NHS or she can see the same surgeon at the same hospital and get treatment in two weeks for £1,200. How is this correct? she wrote on Twitter.
A teacher in the northeast who asked not to be named said she borrowed £350 for an MRI. “At the appointment, there were signs on the walls indicating the times for the return of the results: three days for private, three weeks for NHS.” The scan revealed that she had an inflamed cyst on her knee that required treatment.
Another trust, Hampshire Hospitals NHS, is promoting services through its private clinic Candover. More than 53,500 patients were awaiting non-urgent elective treatment at the trust in October.
Meanwhile, Kingston Private Health, the private unit of the Kingston NHS trust hospital in south-west London, offers “fast access” without “long waiting lists”. Treatments include hip replacements for £10,100. Patients are cared for by “experienced NHS nursing staff,” the website says.
The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust writes on its private division’s website of a “quick and easy way to get immediate access to the healthcare you need”.
Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, NHS hospital trusts could generate up to 49% of their income from private patients. For 2015/16, nearly £600m generated per year by the NHS treating private patients.
The pandemic and record waiting lists prompted a review of private services by some trusts. The King’s College hospital NHS trust in south London suspended private inpatient and outpatient services during the pandemic to allow inpatient beds to be used for NHS patients. The hospitalization service has not yet reopened.
The NHS Hospitals Trust in Newcastle, where waiting times are among the longest in England, says its private patient facilities “are currently being used for NHS services”.
David Rowland, director of the Center for Health and the Public Interest, said that while it was “potentially justifiable” for trusts to offer private services when the NHS was not under pressure, it was “ethically highly dubious” during a crisis.
Advocates for private patient units say they can help boost income for trusts, but some experts say the benefits are unclear and argue that if private units lose money, they may strain NHS resources.
The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “NHS care always comes first. Any income that is generated through our business activity is fully reinvested in the NHS.”
Great Western Hospital NHS Trust said it had not operated a full private patient unit since before Covid and that where it offers private treatment, “it is out of hours and where there is capacity in empty outpatient clinics”, and NHS patients always receive ” priority care”.
The Kingston hospital NHS trust said it had reduced private activity in winter and used the space to take pressure off the NHS. “Of our 417 adult beds, we currently only have 2 patients in private beds,” a spokesperson said.
The Royal Free said it had reduced waiting lists in the past two years. “All profits generated by our private patient unit are reinvested in the trust. It is entirely separate from our NHS capacity and does not impact care for NHS patients.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “NHS hospitals have always been able to generate small amounts of additional revenue by treating private patients, which can then be used to improve the services NHS patients receive.”