Royal Marsden seeks wealthy patients as budget cuts bite

Proposals to reduce the cap on foundation trusts' private earnings are likely to be fiercely contested in the Lords
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Britain's premier cancer hospital plans to boost its income from private patients by 38 per cent over the next two years as its NHS income is squeezed.

The Royal Marsden Foundation Trust, which opened a new, private in-patient wing last month, aims to increase private earnings by almost £9m this year, taking the total to £54m – nearly a quarter of its turnover. It plans a further £8.1m rise in 2012-13.

The figures are revealed in its three-year "Forward Strategy" plan submitted to Monitor, the foundation trust regulator. They highlight efforts made by trusts to maximise income from private sources to make up the shortfall in public funding as the NHS budget comes under unprecedented pressure.

Alan Goldsman, finance director, told the Health Service Journal that the trust had seen a big increase in demand from private patients.

"We operate in a competitive environment with other providers in London plus those in Europe and America. But Royal Marsden is a recognised brand and it is one of the top-performing organisations of its kind in the world."

William Laing of private health consultancy Laing & Buisson said: "A lot of NHS trusts are looking hard at how to generate more money from private patients. There is plenty of money in London and plenty of money in cancer."

Disclosure of the hospital's plans is likely to fuel opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill, where proposals to remove the cap on foundation trusts' private earnings are expected to be fiercely contested in the Lords. The cap varies from 30 per cent of turnover for the Royal Marsden, the highest, to less than 2 per cent for some trusts.

The cap was imposed by the former Labour government because it was feared that foundation trusts would fundamentally change the nature of their activity, increasing the number of private patients at the expense of NHS patients. In the Marsden's case its plans would take private income up to 24.9 per cent of its turnover in 2011-12, lower than its 30 per cent cap but still higher than for any other trust.

The Royal Marsden was unable to provide a spokesperson to comment on its plans. In a statement, the trust said its private provision had been restricted by a rebuilding programme at its Chelsea site in recent years and had now been restored.

"Private patient income is important to us to allow us to invest the surplus in cancer research and treatment. This income is used to benefit all patients – NHS and private care."