PATIENT CARE AT RISK – from private treatment centres

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Senior doctors yesterday renewed a warning that private treatment centres are putting patient care at risk and destabilising the NHS.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and other health unions slammed the millions of pounds being spent on block financing of the private treatment centres.

The centres frequently fail to carry out as many as 25 per cent of the operations that they are paid for.

On the day the Healthcare Commission published its report on private Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs), the BMA issued results from its own survey of senior doctors.

More than half (62 per cent) of clinical directors working in NHS trusts in England are concerned about the quality of care provided by ISTCs.

Over half (61 per cent) of clinical directors are aware of patients who have developed complications following treatment in an ISTC, requiring an emergency admission to an NHS hospital.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee said: ‘The BMA’s research reveals that there are significant differences between treatment centres run by the NHS and those provided by the independent sector.

‘Their continued lack of integration with local NHS services is leaving some patients at risk and is fragmenting their care.

‘The independent sector will normally only carry out more straight-forward procedures, leaving complex and more costly cases to the NHS.

‘This significantly destabilises local health services with long term financial implications, risks to patient care, and threatens the future of medical training.’

The BMA is ‘dismayed’ to hear that there are still problems with data collection.

Dr Fielden added: ‘The BMA agrees with the Healthcare Commission that we need more robust data to assess health outcomes, and a comparable clinical governance system put in place to ensure the highest standards of care are being provided.

‘We are disappointed that the Commission feels it can reassure patients about quality when it acknowledges that data collection is inadequate.’

He added: ‘In many localities, the need for an ISTC to provide extra capacity has been poorly assessed and contracts, paid for regardless of activity, are under-utilised.

‘This is a shameful waste of NHS money and any further expansion in the ISTC programme must be seriously questioned.’

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, said: ‘We warned from the beginning that ISTC contracts were too rigid. We now have the spectacle of millions of pounds being paid out to private companies for operations that never take place.

‘This is money that should have gone into the NHS to build up capacity, meet local demand and improve patient care.’

She added: ‘We hope that the new regime in the DoH will be more reflective on existing evidence and take action to make sure that ISTC contracts are not a blank cheque to private providers.’

GMB national officer Sharon Holder told News Line: ‘We’ve always believed in directly employed staff carrying out directly provided services.

‘We have to ask if managers are managing the services they are responsible for. How can we be paying out money upfront to ISTCs for services we don’t intend to use?’