The Government’s controversial decision to use private hospitals to cut waiting lists in the NHS must not become a long-term answer to the shortage of beds in the public sector, according to a recent report by the Health Select Committee.
The report has raised a string of concerns about the policy of using private sector beds to overcome the lack of capacity in the NHS.
While the MPs on the Labour led committee do not directly oppose the Government move, they say it remains to be seen whether the greater use of the independent sector poses “no direct threat to resources in the NHS”.
The report accepts that the private sector has a role in reducing waiting lists, but the MPs say the NHS must ensure that enough beds are provided to cope with future demand.
The report comes after Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announced in April that the NHS would receive an extra £40bn over the next five years.
But the MPs are critical of the way some NHS consultants are still able to treat private patients in NHS beds. All NHS trusts should be forced to carry out “a cost benefit analysis of the reclaiming for the NHS of capacity utilised to provide private pay beds in NHS hospitals”, they say. “This could establish whether there are any trusts which might find it more cost-effective to use this capacity within the NHS instead of buying in operations from independent hospitals.”
Plans by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, to force newly qualified consultants to work exclusively for the NHS for seven years, could result in a big increase in NHS capacity, the MPs say. Where senior consultants continue to work in both sectors, the MPs suggest annual appraisals to detect whether private work detracts from their NHS responsibilities.
Another concern is to ensure that patients continue to get value for money and to prevent private hospitals from overcharging the NHS “after establishing a dependence on their services”.
Meanwhile, an independent study has cast further doubt on whether the rise in health spending will be translated into better patient care. Research by the Office for National Statistics found that a 25% increase in resources between 1995 and 2000 produced only a 15% increase in services for patients.