BONANZA – big profits for private treatment centres

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Private treatment centres are treating as few as a quarter of the National Health Service patients they have been paid to handle.

In the worst cases, they have been operating at just 25 per cent and 27 per cent of capacity, figures reveal.

Contracts awarded to private health companies worth £1.7 billion to operate 18 centres since 2004 are paid in full, regardless of whether targets are met.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has just signed new contracts worth £200 million with 14 private health care companies, which are to provide an additional 750,000 medical procedures.

Consultant surgeon Mrs Anna Athow commented yesterday: ‘This government is forging ahead with privatising the provision of the health services.’

She warned: ‘Giving further huge contracts to private treatment centres with money up front, whether the work is performed or not, at tarriffs higher than the NHS get, is their way of subsidising big business.

‘Blair and health secretary Hewitt are steamrolling through £1.2bn cuts in NHS hospitals, so that patients will be forced into the private treatment centres as there will be nowhere else to go.

‘For the government to allocate more new contracts to private corporations this summer, at the same time as scores of high quality NHS facilities are closed, is outrageous.

‘It proves that the government has the money but not for the NHS.

‘The unions have to get this stopped. This issue must be top priority at the TUC Congress. Everyone should take part in the lobby at 9am in Brighton to demand national industrial action to stop the cuts defend jobs and keep the NHS open.’

A British Medical Association spokeswoman told News Line: ‘Examples such as these demonstrate that the NHS is getting poor value for money – with such contracts to private providers.

‘That is part of the reason why the BMA is opposed to any further privatisation of the NHS.’

Figures reveal that on average, the existing private centres are operating at only 81 per cent capacity. Only five run at full capacity.

Based on the contracted number of scans and procedures, 103,305 treatments should have been performed by the 18 centres by the end of April this year. However, only 84,068 had taken place.

Private treatment centres are on average, eleven per cent more expensive than the NHS equivalents, which are short-changed by the new Payment by Results system.

The private companies are paid a lump sum to provide a fixed number of services to a fixed number of NHS patients. Even if the numbers of patients treated are lower than expected, the contracts are paid in full.

• Over 5,000 marchers braved the pouring rain in Kendal town centre on Saturday to protest against plans to stop admitting medical emergencies to the Cumbrian town’s Westmoreland General Hospital.