Marcher with no illusions on what NHS privatisation is about
Marcher with no illusions on what NHS privatisation is about

MULTI-BILLIONAIRE Richard Branson’s private health company Virgin Care has won £1bn worth of NHS contracts in a single year.

Private providers are winning an increasing number NHS contracts, with Virgin Care taking the lion’s share of NHS contracts in the last year. A data analysis by pressure group NHS Support Federation, found that in 2016/17, private companies won 43% of NHS contracts – up from 34% the previous year.

However, a report by the pressure group added that over the last year, £7.1bn worth of NHS clinical contracts have been awarded, which the pressure group said is on a par with the year before. Virgin Care was found to have won the most NHS clinical contracts, picking up over £1bn worth of NHS awards in 2016/17, which amounts to a third of the total value of contracts won by non-NHS providers in the last year. This includes a £700m contract to run 200 health and social care services in Bath and North East Somerset in November 2016.

The report said: ‘Virgin Care’s procurement strategy – targeting contracts that cover a very large number of services in both health and social care – is in line with the changes that are taking place within the NHS and the development of new models of care.’

It added that the contracts ‘place Virgin Care right at the heart of the NHS in a prime position to influence and help develop new models of care’. This comes as the BMA warned that NHS England plans to bring local health and social care services under one contract run the risk of privatising NHS services.

A recent survey by researchers at Imperial College London showed that when practices are owned by limited companies under Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contracts, patients are less satisfied with the service provided in comparison with those under General Medical Services (GMS) contracts.

• A&E doctor Dr Richard Fawcett of Royal Stoke has, in a message to patients and the general public, said sorry for ‘third world conditions’ as the NHS winter crisis bites. Many hospitals have been bursting at the seams since Christmas amid very cold weather and the beginnings of a flu epidemic combined with an acute shortage of staff. Growing numbers of hospitals are struggling to cope with the onset of the NHS’s winter crisis, as the closure of A&E’s across the length and breadth of this country at the hands of this Tory government.

Milton Keynes hospital admitted it was under ‘extreme and sustained pressure’ because of the ‘very high’ number of patients turning up and needing to be treated as medical emergencies. ‘We are seeing very high numbers of very sick patients in the emergency department and fewer patients being able to be discharged – many because they also remain in need of acute care.

‘Staff are working under incredible pressure to look after the patients in our care. I cannot overstate that. We are doing our best in extraordinarily difficult circumstances,’ said the hospital’s chief executive, Prof Joe Harrison. Milton Keynes has opened what it said was ‘an unprecedented number of escalation extra beds in order to provide care for acutely unwell patients’ and it is asking sick people to avoid their A&E unit and seek help elsewhere, ‘unless it is a genuine emergency’.

Dr Richard Fawcett, a consultant in emergency medicine at the Royal Stoke hospital, tweeted on Tuesday: ‘As an A&E consultant at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, I personally apologise to the people of Stoke for the 3rd world conditions of the dept due to #overcrowding.’

Many other hospitals have been struggling to cope since Christmas during the cold weather.

‘Everyone is busy. Many people are talking about massive queues in corridors. And there’s more flu around than usual,’ said Prof Chris Moulton, the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), which represents A&E doctors.

‘It’s clearly not just a few isolated hospitals that are having problems. It’s pretty much spread throughout the whole NHS,’ he added. Dr Nick Scriven, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) and a consultant at a hospital in the north of England, worked on Monday from 8am until 7pm.

He was then called back to work at midnight because so many patients needed help, and stayed until 4am. The SAM represents doctors who care for patients admitted to hospital as medical emergencies but who do not need surgery. ‘The position across the NHS is as bad as I’ve known it,’ he said.

‘Big issues are currently nursing staffing levels, with extra beds being opened around hospitals to cope with winter surge and not enough nurses to go round. This is the same for doctors and therapists. Diagnostic facilities in hospitals will be swamped – a vicious circle of increased need causing longer delays in whole system,’ he added.

The Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham came under such pressure on New Year’s Day that patients were waiting up to six hours to be seen, much longer than the four-hour maximum that should apply. The hospital said it had been ‘extremely busy’.

Many hospitals are buckling under the strain despite intensive NHS-wide planning for a winter that bosses have long feared would be particularly difficult, including measures such as creating extra beds in hospitals and hiring ‘step-down’ beds in nursing homes to help. Tracy Bullock, the chief executive of Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation trust, tweeted that, in her 34 years working in the NHS, she had ‘never seen anything like this. Relentless, and staff have been brilliant’.

Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the RCEM, warned that patient safety could be at risk because urgent and emergency care is ‘a system under acute or chronic distress’. One hospital doctor, Chris Turner, tweeted: ‘It’s 4am and I’ve been lying awake for the last hour worrying about how we manage the department when my shift starts in 12 hours time. The last time the job felt so impossible for me was Mid-Staffs. This can feel like a personal failure to staff; it’s not, it’s a system fail.’