Private beds deal disappoints doctors

by Tim Tonkin

Plans to reserve private hospital beds to deal with surges in COVID infections may harm patients and do little to increase NHS capacity, the BMA has warned.

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 17 January 2022
Doctor holding a patient's hand

The association has raised its concerns with the Government’s decision to forge a new contract with private providers, which will see beds reserved for NHS patients in the event of mass-hospitalisations resulting from the Omicron variant, without first consulting with doctors engaged in private practice.

It warns that a similar agreement reached in March 2020 ultimately saw many beds going unfilled, while also affecting the care received by private patients.

The association has also voiced concerns over a lack of transparency over the financial implications of the previous agreement, citing a lack of clarity over the amount of NHS funds used to reserve beds and the rate of return received by the health service.

In a letter to NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis, BMA private practice committee co-chairs Jennifer Yell and Jeremy Lawrance expressed their disappointment that ministers had pressed ahead with a new agreement without discussing the details of their plan.

Lack of consultation

Calling for Prof Powis to agree to urgent talks with the PPC, Dr Yell and Dr Lawrance warned that failure to address doctors’ concerns could ultimately put patients’ care at risk.

They said: ‘It’s shocking the Government decided to make this decision without consulting doctors working in the private sector, particularly after how unsuccessful the previous agreement was. While policy makers might think this is a good idea, doctors on the ground do not – we are of the view that this agreement will not fulfil its intention of boosting NHS capacity but rather further impact private patient care and prove to be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

‘If the PPC had been asked our opinion, as we suggested in previous communications, then we would have made it very clear to policy makers that this decision will lead to patient’s conditions deteriorating and increase the private sector’s backlog. For far too long the government has sought to manage NHS underfunding with outsourcing rather than developing a credible plan to actually increase NHS hospital capacity and ensure patients receive the care they deserve in a reasonable timeframe.

‘This new contract is an exercise in smoke and mirrors and the BMA are now demanding that the Government listens to the views of private doctors and looks to urgently addresses our concerns before even more private patients are harmed as a result of this agreement.’

Unhelpful policy

A survey carried out by the BMA following the Government’s 2020 agreement with private healthcare providers found that 60 per cent of doctors working in the private sector said it had hampered their ability to care for patients.

In calling for talks with Prof Powis and the Government, the BMA is seeking clarity on issues regarding the agreement including:

  • What plans are in place to ensure conditions for private patients, including those who will be placed on extensive waiting lists, do not further deteriorate
  • How has the number of beds to be reserved been calculated?
  • What support private practice doctors will receive as they face mounting pressure and patient demand?

Read the PPC’s letter to Prof Powis