News

28.11.16

NHS trusts urged to use private care to beat winter crisis

Leaked documents show that trusts are being instructed to transfer patients to the private sector as part of a bid to cope with unprecedented demand this winter, leading the BMA to warn that the NHS is now facing “unmanageable pressures”.

The NHS England and NHS Improvement memo, seen by the Daily Telegraph, instructs trusts to bring down their bed occupancy rates to the recommended safe limit of 85% between 19 December and 16 January.

The most recent NHS statistics show average general and acute bed occupancy in quarter 2 of this year was 89.1%, and the figure could grow as hospitals go into winter.

Earlier this month, the Health Select Committee warned that hospitals are likely to face a severe crisis this winter and called for urgent action to address the issue.

The memo instructed trusts to “maximise elective activity” to tackle the problem, using drastic measures including transferring operations to the private sector, discharging patients early and paying consultants high overtime rates.

A recent BBC investigation revealed that spending on high-cost overtime has already reached £168m in the past year.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA, said: “This is evidence of an over-stretched healthcare system that the government has failed to properly fund, which must outsource patient care to private providers to cope with predictable patient demand.

“Unmanageable pressures are now facing the NHS all year round, winter or not, and this has been made worse by cuts to social care provision.”

The memo notes that the plans “will have to have full regard to both elective targets and financial delivery”.

However, it seems inevitable that spending on private healthcare and consultant overtime would make efforts to tackle the NHS deficit, already at £648m to date this year, harder.

A separate document, also leaked to the Telegraph, showed that GPs are being asked to establish local ‘A&E Delivery Boards’, which will visit patients’ homes to respond to urgent 111 calls in order to reduce hospital visits.

The guidance states that these boards are intended to address winter pressures, but should remain in place all year.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Anyone who needs to be in hospital or in another care setting over Christmas will be. Our ambition to reduce bed occupancy in hospitals over the festive period is about timely discharge and getting people to the most appropriate care setting ahead of the holidays, so there is capacity for early January when we know pressure is greatest.”

(Image c. Peter Byrne)

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Comments

Radman   28/11/2016 at 12:06

So trusts have to penalise themselves through lost elective income to the private sector in order to deal with the excessively high bed occupancy rates caused through inadequate capacity for increased demand and progressive bed closures. At the same time as incurring additional costs through increased use of overtime but paying due regard to financial delivery. Fantasy land economics expected here then.

Peter Ashcroft   06/12/2016 at 09:56

We need to split NHS services into Emergency, free of charge, and Secondary, optional, with payment up front. It is ironic that we talk about abortion, on one hand, and three parent births on the other. Adoption could replace these two services, and bringing cutback on NHS expenditure. 'True Need' must be the NHS motto from this day forward.

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