On 21 March the NHS announced an unprecedented deal with the independent sector, taking over capacity to ensure that vital care could continue for those patients who most desperately needed it. For HCA UK, that meant making available over 800 beds, 1,600 employed nurses, healthcare professionals and theatre practitioners, 77 ITU beds, 33 HDU beds and 38 theatres.
Andrew Coombs, HCA Healthcare UK’s commercial director, gives his perspective and outlines the three key messages he wants to get across to patients now access to care is expanding.
As a long-time partner of the NHS formally through our joint venture models and less so though our shared relationships with consultants, we have been privileged to work more closely with the NHS to make a significant contribution at a time of national crisis.
But as a provider that always concentrated its efforts on the delivery of wholly private care, with the mainstay of our business driven through private medical insurance (PMI), that meant a huge – though necessary – shift. As lockdown eases and restrictions on care are lifted, we are getting back to that focus. The demand is clearly there.
‘For months, patients with care needs outside of COVID-19 or those not considered time-critical have been put on hold – now we need to ensure that demand translates into care’
For months, patients with care needs outside of COVID-19 or those not considered time-critical have been put on hold. Recent consumer research on behalf of Equipsme indicated a 12% rise on last year in the number of people who would consider going private for their care. Now we need to ensure that demand translates into care. For me, that’s about ensuring that people know the following things: we are open, we are safe, and we want you to seek care if you have a concern.
First things first: we are open. In fact, we never closed. For the last few months, we have treated thousands of patients with time-critical care needs, whose care couldn’t wait longer than weeks. This includes self-pay and PMI patients – all were triaged strictly according to clinical need via NHS hubs. During April, May and June, we had over 70,000 patient interactions, performed over 4,000 complex surgeries predominantly for cancer and cardiac conditions and delivered over 600 babies.
By continuing to provide care at the height of the pandemic we have been able to support patients like James Byrom, who self-paid for life-saving craniotomy, Keith Amder, an NHS patient with a 5cm tumour on his bladder, and new parents Krystina and Mario whose first born, Tony, was delivered at The Portland.
Thinking differently about access has been essential to care continuing and will be another key part of our offer going forward that again, we want patients to know more about. Consultants, patients and our insurer partners have embraced virtual consultations. They are no longer confined to the primary care space; virtual consultations are enabling us to provide a route into provide medical advice and triage for onward diagnostics and care.
Take 32-year-old Robert Rodrigues as an example of how effective this has been. Concerned about a lump, he was virtually seen by a consultant and within three days of his diagnosis, he was having surgery at London Bridge Hospital to remove a cancerous tumour.
‘It’s about ensuring that people know the following things: we are open, we are safe, and we want you to seek care if you have a concern’
We have extended this approach to access to support those on longer-term care pathways. For example, for those patients who are undergoing cancer treatment, we have been able to continue to provide holistic care through patient webinars on physical, emotional and nutritional health, live exercise classes with our specialist oncology physiotherapists and the introduction of virtual support groups lead by our Clinical Nurse Specialists.
With the news at the start of June that lockdown was to ease, we were able to extend access even further, opening up all of our services to all patients – from outpatient procedures, consultations, diagnostics and imaging, right through to surgery and in June alone we had over 25,000 privately funded patient interactions.
While the message that we’re open seems to be filtering through, we need to ensure people feel reassured to take the next step and take advantage of the access we can provide. They need to feel that they are safe when they visit our hospitals and clinics. We understand that COVID-19 adds extra worry at an already anxious time for many patients, so being able to demonstrate our ability to deliver care safely in this new world is crucial.
From increased infection prevention measures, to COVID-19 testing for patients and staff, right down to the way our hospitals have been organised to ensure we can apply social distancing, every aspect of what we do has been reviewed to ensure that we are proving the safest places for care.
These are guided by national and international best practice, and delivered by our teams of expert consultants, nurses and healthcare professionals.
At HCA Healthcare UK, we have experience of providing the most complex care to patients with comorbidities against the most challenging backdrop and doing so safely. From renal transplants, to managing high-risk haemato-oncology patients, through to cardiac, spinal and cancer surgeries, our absolute focus has been on providing the safest environments possible for that care to take place. Thanks to a number of measures that we have implemented, there has been no evidence of hospital acquired COVID-19 infections in those patients admitted for care at HCA Healthcare UK hospitals during April, May and June.
This all lays the foundations for encouraging patients to seek medical care if they need it, but we know that patients still need to make that leap. In April, an NHS survey suggested that one in 10 people would not contact their GP even if they had a lump or a new mole which did not go away after a week.
‘It is critical we remain united but this time to ensure the many thousands of people with healthcare needs outside of COVID-19 do not go untreated‘
In May only 560,240 people received some form of treatment in hospital, down 60% on the 1.4 million who did so at the same time last year.
A recent BBC Panorama documentary on cancer care powerfully brought home the importance of early diagnosis and treatment and the impact that COVID-19 has had on this. According to a study conducted by DATA-CAN, the Health Care Research Hub (HDR UK), as many as two million routine appointments, including breast, bowel and cervical cancer screenings may have been missed throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
At the start of the pandemic, we all came together as sector to ensure that the nation was ready to tackle COVID-19, and now as the situation continues to evolve, it is critical we remain united but this time to ensure the many thousands of people with healthcare needs outside of COVID-19 do not go untreated, and understand that care is still continuing.
Andrew Coombs is Commercial Director of HCA Healthcare UK