RCSEd Response to Government awarding £5bn to Private Healthcare Providers

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23 Jun 2020

Responding to news that the government is considering awarding £5bn to private healthcare providers to help manage the growing backlog of NHS appointments, Professor Michael Griffin OBE, President of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh said:

“Covid is creating a number of long term challenges for the NHS. Estimates vary, but we believe that over 4 million non-urgent operations have been cancelled since March. Reports also estimate that there may be some 10 million patients waiting for NHS treatment or review by the end of the year.

“Whilst using the private sector might seem an obvious way to reduce this growing backlog, we believe that there are a number of risks and costs involved.

“Firstly, recent high profile cases have shown a significant difference between patient safety and procedural standards in the NHS and those amongst certain private providers. Diagnostic services and ancillary support, particularly perioperative teams, are not as available in the private sector to the extent that they are in the NHS. We therefore need guarantees that the safety and quality of care delivered by private providers meet the same high standards as can be found in the NHS.

“Secondly, the size and variety of cases in the backlog is such that many procedures could be done by trainees and members of the wider surgical team under the supervision of consultant surgeons. We therefore believe that it is important for surgical trainees and the wider surgical team to participate in NHS activity carried out in private providers. In doing so, this will enhance their overall surgical skills and vitally the NHS’s ability to prepare itself for the many challenges it will face in the future.

“It is crucial that we continue to develop the future NHS workforce and likewise feel strongly that the most cost effective options for the public purse should be pursued when considering funding NHS treatment with private providers.

“Thirdly, we are aware that the NHS already has significant staff shortages at all levels. We would ask that the proposed £5bn of extra funding to private providers should also in some way be used to recruit more doctors and all healthcare professionals. The use of private providers to deliver the backlog of NHS care will spread an already thin workforce even further- this workforce must be supported.

“The pandemic has once again shown the value of the NHS. We believe it must remain the focus for care. Private providers should only be used where they can clearly prove they meet the rigorous standards of safety and care, enhance rather than undermine training opportunities and do not drain much needed resources away from the NHS inappropriately.”

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