Private health firms are being asked to take on patients for NHS operations when the “going gets rough” in busy A&E departments, a senior NHS official has said.
NHS medical director for England, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, told MPs extra cash had been put into A&E to ease it through winter but discussions were ongoing to get help from private companies.
Prof Keogh told the Commons Health Committee:
“We’ve started to look at how the private sector might be engaged in the event of a surge through hospitals, coming through A&E.
“One of the issues under consideration is when the going gets rough in winter, often one of the impacts is on elective care so waiting lists start to drift out, so could elective care be shifted more into the private sector?
“Barbara Hakin (NHS England’s deputy chief executive) has had meetings not only with the private sector but with the voluntary sector to see what they could do to help.”
He said the NHS was “better prepared” this winter “than any winter that I’ve been involved in before but I think we’d be foolish to be complacent because there are always things that crop up like outbreaks of flu or norovirus.”
Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said:
“A&Es have been struggling for over a year now, yet bosses are still scrambling to get plans in place. They know the pressures aren’t going away. Ministers are still refusing to take responsibility and now private hospitals are being called on to deal with the crisis. They’ve got a duty to get a grip – once and for all – and make sure NHS hospitals can cope themselves.”