Directors, managers and staff at Britain’s independent and private sector hospitals have been working around the clock to adapt their services and capacity to support the national and global effort against the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
Further details are emerging about the huge extent to which independent sector providers of care across the country are going to provide vital care to whoever needs it as the pandemic crisis worsens.
Latest figures on Sunday evening suggested that the total confirmed cases of coronavirus had passed the 336,000 mark, with an estimated total death count of almost 15,000, while 98,000 individuals have recovered.
In the UK, the youngest victim of COVID-19, aged 18, died on Sunday. Around 1.5 million vulnerable individuals here have now been urged to “self-isolate” or “shield” – in other words stay home completely – for 12 weeks as public health officials try to get to grips with the escalating crisis.
The vast majority of private and independent sector hospital capacity in the UK is now being redeployed away from non-urgent elective care – whether that be self-pay, insured or NHS-funded – as healthcare bosses across the private and public sectors scramble to make as many beds possible available to deal with victims of the rapidly-spreading disease.
On Saturday, a landmark deal was struck between the NHS and independent sector hospital providers which will see an additional 20,000 fully-qualified staff and 8,000 extra beds be made available.
Spire Healthcare confirmed at the weekend that its entire capacity of 35 private hospitals across the country have been given over to tacking COVID-19, while HCA Healthcare UK, which operates six hospitals in London and a number of other facilities across the country, has also pledged its support.
Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, has said it is making 30 hospitals across England available to NHS trusts following discussions with NHS England.
A Nuffield spokesman said that conversations about timings between the provider and NHS England are “ongoing” and it is possible that three of its hospitals may be utilised to provide cancer care to NHS patients, with its remaining 27 hospitals focused on COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 NHS patient care.
He said: “We have also offered support with clinicians, support services and clinical equipment such as ventilators. Access to our 14 nurseries is also available for NHS and key workers to relieve the strain on employees and their families.”
Nuffield Health chief executive Steve Gray said: “This is an unprecedented time. As the UK’s largest healthcare charity we have a huge role to play in supporting the NHS patients in our local communities across the nation.
“We, alongside other independent hospital providers, have been in discussions with the NHS about how we can support the NHS. This is likely to be for a minimum of three months while the coronavirus situation continues to require our support.”
Gray said Nuffield’s support is centred around the provision of pathways for patients with specific conditions, including COVID-19, “medical step down”, urgent elective and cancer care. Nuffield is also reviewing how it can utilise its network of clinical employees, physiologists, physiotherapists, and personal trainers to offer further support.
Nuffield Health medical and charity director Dr Davina Deniszczyc said: “We are in a unique position to care for NHS patients clinically, physically and mentally. We are here to help those affected by the COVID-19, cancer and other health conditions, and ease the strain on our incredible NHS.
“We are committed to supporting regional NHS trusts and local communities across the nation in any way we can. As part of this, we are looking at how we can help the more vulnerable people in our communities and supporting parents to keep their children active while schools are closed through extending our flagship programmes at no cost. We are also offering online fitness classes and emotional wellbeing guidance to keep people fit and emotionally resilient at this time.”
A spokesman for fellow independent sector hospital provider Ramsay Health Care UK said it is offering its “full support” to the NHS to assist with its response to COVID-19.
Ramsay UK’s CEO Dr Andy Jones said: “Ramsay will do everything it takes to support the country at this time of crisis.
“Ramsay’s hospitals and staff across the UK are already standing with the NHS at the frontline to fight against COVID-19.”
Ramsay’s global parent, which operates 480 hospitals and day surgery facilities across 11 countries, is in active partnership and ongoing discussions with local healthcare systems around the world.
A spokesman for Bupa – whose Group CEO Evelyn Bourke said on Sunday that supporting the public response to COVID-19 is now the organisation’s “top priority” – confirmed that the Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London has already redeployed and increased capacity to accommodate patients affected by coronavirus.
The spokesman said: “Tackling this disease is everyone’s priority and we welcome the commitment of independent hospitals, including our own Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London, which is already accepting patients from local NHS trusts to create bed capacity in the NHS.
“We have also accelerated the commissioning of our new Intensive Care Unit at the Cromwell which provides much needed ICU capacity for more severely-affected patients.”
A spokesman for Schoen Clinic, the largest family-run hospital group in Germany which now operates four specialist hospitals and clinics in the UK, said: “As an independent private healthcare provider we will be working in partnership with NHS England as part of the response to COVID-19. This support will include making our hospital beds and our healthcare professionals available to provide care at different levels.”
The Schoen spokesman added: ”The healthcare sector is united throughout these unprecedented times.”