The extent to which Britain’s independent/private hospital sector is working with the NHS to combat the ongoing coronavirus crisis is becoming increasingly clear.
Britain’s private hospital operators – which already work with the NHS providing routine care not related to COVID-19 – have stressed that they are committed and well-placed to deliver vital additional capacity as the health service gets stretched.
And one provider – Spire Healthcare – has now confirmed that the “entire capacity” of its 35 private hospitals across England will be given over in the national push against coronavirus.
The news is part of a wider deal announced at the weekend which marks a step change in the amount of NHS-funded work being carried out by the private hospital sector.
The health service has been paying independent sector hospitals – in both the private and charitable sectors – to carry out a significant number of procedures in an effort to cut NHS waiting times, ever since a historic “concordat” was signed between the two sectors in 2000.
But the arrangement has proved to be politically sensitive, with opponents claiming that the policy drains the NHS of funds, while proponents argue it is an effective, creative and flexible way of injecting additional capacity and capital into healthcare provision in the UK.
The current COVID-19 crisis, though, means that private hospital capacity in the UK will now, either way, be used and funded by the NHS to an extent never seen before.
It was announced on Saturday that an additional 20,000 fully qualified staff and 8,000 extra beds will be made available as a result of the deal between the NHS and independent sector hospital providers.
The NHS will also gain access to nearly 1,200 more ventilators and other critical care facilities.
The deal – the first of its kind ever on this scale – includes the provision of more than 10,000 nurses, over 700 doctors and over 8,000 other clinical staff.
It also means that the majority of self-pay or insured procedures that were due to be carried out at private hospitals are now being put on hold.
It is also understood that the COVID-19 work will be carried out “at cost” and that private hospitals will not “profit” from the activity.
John Reay, president and CEO of HCA Healthcare UK, which operates six major private hospitals in London as well as a number of outpatient clinics both independently and in partnership with the NHS across the country, said: “Uniting across the healthcare sector has never been so important for patients, and we are proud to be able to provide our support to this national response and our colleagues in the NHS.
“We know that London is ahead of the rest of the country in terms of the progression of coronavirus, and as a first step we will treat urgent elective NHS patients based on clinical need.
“As the pressure on the NHS evolves and builds, so too will the nature of the support we provide. The NHS has signalled that at some point, this support is likely to include the provision of care to COVID-19 patients.”
Spire Healthcare said in a statement on Saturday evening that it will use the coming week to prepare its colleagues and facilities for “full use” by the NHS, while it continues to treat NHS and private elective patients “where appropriate”.
Then, from 30th March, Spire will make available the “entire capacity” of its 35 hospitals in England to the NHS.
Spire said in a statement: “We are committed to supporting NHS England in combatting the COVID-19 outbreak.”
It is thought that Spire and other independent providers will receive “cost recovery” for their services, including operating costs, overheads, use of assets, rent and interest less a deduction for any private elective care provided.
Latest estimates on Saturday evening suggested that more than 5,000 people in the UK have now been infected with coronavirus.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths has risen to 233 after 53 more fatalities were announced in England on Saturday.
Globally, more than 304,000 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed by Saturday evening, with around 13,000 deaths and around 92,000 recoveries.
A map with the latest global numbers – also by country – is available at the John Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Centre here.