Right of Reply: John Vallance-Owen

The medical director of Bupa responds to Andreas Whittam Smith's views on private health care
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ANDREAS WHITTAM Smith's commentary seriously misrepresents the quality of care that is available in the sector and the contribution made to the delivery of health care in this country. There is clearly much to be done in some areas of the private sector, which is why Bupa argued that the Select Committee should go further than it has by regulating all providers.

Andreas Whittam Smith characterises the whole sector as being more concerned with decor than with standards of treatment and care. However, the principal providers already have in place quality standards and systems for self- regulation which, at the very least, match the committee's recommendations.

The responsible players do not, as he suggests, undertake surgery for which they are not equipped. No responsible doctor embarks on a procedure that, because of the absence of proper facilities, represents a risk to the patient. More than 10,000 experienced consultants use private hospital facilities for their patients on a regular basis.

Neither does the sector knowingly allow doctors who have been suspended by the NHS to continue to operate in its hospitals. If this does ever happen, it is because the NHS has failed to notify the hospital of the doctor's suspension. We welcome the Select Committee's recommendations that suspensions should be automatically notified to all employers.

The overall tenor of the article does a serious disservice to a sector that performs one in five of all planned operations, saving the NHS up to pounds 1bn a year in doing so, and without which waiting lists would be significantly longer. The sector makes a valuable contribution to this country's health care needs, and takes its responsibilities seriously.