Care concerns over privately run NHS hospitals and services

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Care concerns over privately run NHS hospitals and services

23rd November 2011

A specialist in cases involving medical negligence has added her voice to growing fears that standards of patient care may suffer if more profit-led private companies are brought in to manage NHS hospitals and their services.

Jacqui Hayat, head of the London Medical Negligence department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was speaking following the recent takeover of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire by Circle Health - one of the UK’s most prominent healthcare providers.

“Although private sector firms already operate units such as hip-replacement centres, Circle Health is the first to take over the running of an entire hospital,” said Jacqui, a partner with the firm. “The decade long, £1billion contract will see them managing the debt-crippled hospital from February.

“There will doubtless be more potential business for the private sector in hospital management, as well as healthcare services on various fronts such as community health and primary care,” said Jacqui. “This has led to very real concerns that as cuts are inevitably made to ensure healthy returns and shareholder satisfaction, standards of patient care may well be compromised as a result.”

The Hinchingbrooke takeover was lauded by ministers at the time as being a ‘good deal for patients and staff.’ After the groundbreaking move sparked fury from those who fear the threat of NHS privatisation with its accompanying risks to jobs and services, the government was forced to quell mounting concern by insisting the takeover is not to be considered a full privatisation, as the buildings will remain in public hands and the employees will retain their pay and pensions on existing terms.

“According to the Department of Health, there are 22 NHS Trusts facing spiralling repayment costs for hospitals built through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and many are on the ‘brink of financial collapse’,” said Jacqui.

“Hinchingbrooke is itself £40m in debt. There are numerous private firms hovering over the NHS and we are already seeing GP practice boundaries eroded and community health services tendered out to so-called ‘qualified providers.’ It is surely only a matter of time before we see an array of services being sold off into private hands.

“How is it possible for private companies to maintain a proper standard of healthcare when their primary objective is to cut costs and maximise profit?” added Jacqui. “Cost-cutting means fewer services, shorter recovery periods and less staff. How can such measures not prove detrimental to patient care?”

Since Circle Health took over Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the company has itself admitted to its resources being stretched as a result of its aggressive business strategy. In a share prospectus it was legally obliged to publish in June, the company stated its ambitions to further expand into the NHS, confessing that its plans ‘could affect its ability to provide a consistent level of service to it’s patients.’

“It is incredibly worrying that the fears and profound sense of unease that so many people felt about this move have proven to be entirely justified,” said Jacqui. “It’s not as if there isn’t already enough anguish and opposition to NHS privatisation. The Circle Health revelations have understandably caused uproar and will do nothing to allay concerns that bringing profit-seeking organisations into the health service is a recipe for disaster.”

With hospitals forced to find savings each and every year and with the market to run state-owned acute services worth a staggering £8billion, experts predict that it is inevitable that other struggling hospitals follow in the steps now being taken by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London and the Whiston Hospital (St. Helens) on Merseyside, both of whom are considering outsourcing their management to private sector companies to help them meet efficiency targets. As the government brings in its Health and Social Care Bill reforms and private companies are allowed to expand into the NHS, the grim reality is that many more patients could be placed at risk.

“It is exactly what critics have been saying all along,” said Jacqui, “that introducing profit into the NHS risks putting patient services under strain. It certainly doesn’t help matters when David Cameron says he wants the NHS to be a ‘fantastic business for Britain.’ The very real prospect that patient care at privately-run NHS hospitals may be compromised in the pursuit for profit is fundamentally wrong.

“With companies such as Circle Health openly admitting that under their plans to radically expand their empires - and as a result profit from the NHS - patient care standards may fall, we are looking at a potential crisis in the quality of care patients receive,” added Jacqui. “This cannot be allowed to happen. It is absolutely critical that the continuity of service and consistency of care that is essential in the NHS be upheld and continued.”

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire

Read more: Guardian