Independent and private sector hospitals could earn as much as £10bn for treating NHS-funded patients over the next four years as the Government takes further action to tackle waiting lists caused by measures taken to deal with COVID-19.
The figure is set out in an official contract tender, published today, which says it is an upper estimate of what the NHS could spend to cut waiting times.
Capacity at NHS hospitals across the country has been set aside – and in many cases not utilised – since the outbreak of the pandemic over fears that they could be swamped with huge numbers of patients needing treatment for conditions relating to COVID-19. Additional “temporary” NHS facilities – called Nightingale hospitals – have also been built in order to deal with any potential overspill from exisiting facilities.
Although those, too, remain well under-utilised, independent and private sector hospitals have also set aside capacity over recent months to manage additional NHS-funded demand for treatment.
In today’s (Monday’s) contract notice, NHS England said it will launch a bid to find suppliers to join an agreed “framework” for hospitals to use over the next four years to help reduce the size of its waiting list.
NHS waiting lists are now at their highest since records began, as the COVID-19 lockdown continues to result in the delay and cancellation of thousands of operations and diagnostic procedures.
The strategy has raised concerns across some areas of the private medical insurance (PMI) industry as insurers have come under pressure to give refunds or rebates to customers who have been unable to access private and independent sector hospitals as a result of it. Insurers and hospitals, though, have insisted that they are stepping up privately-funded treatment once again – efforts that they also insist will help to tackle NHS waits.
Health campaigners, meanwhile, have expressed frustration that huge sumes of taxpayers’ money is being earned by private and independent sector hospitals throughout the crisis.
But as the NHS braces itself for its annual “winter crisis” – which is expected be even worse as a result of COVID-19 – the Government is likely to come under continuing pressure to take measures to deal with the rise in demand.
Latest figures show that more than 1.85 million people were waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine NHS hospital treatment in England in June.
The overall waiting list is expected to soar to 10 million people later this year and the Government is expected to come under.
The contract notice said it would aim to find “providers able to support the reduction of waiting lists forecast to increase as a result of Covid-19 interrupting and reducing available NHS capacity”.
The deal is expected to include both inpatient and outpatient services, including diagnostic pathology and imaging services, as well as routine surgery for operations such as cancer treatment and hip replacements.
The notice, first reported by Health Service Journal, also suggests some urgent and emergency patients could be transferred to the private sector by hospitals. The agreement will be used by all NHS trusts.
It said the procurement is expected to launch by the end of September and be awarded by the end of November 2020.
“The agreement term is expected to be two years with the option to extend for a further two years,” the notice read. “The estimated value is based on a potential upper value over a four-year period, actual value will depend on actual demand.”