Consultants 'helped private patients to jump NHS queue': Unofficial 'domiciliary visits' form enabled fast-track treatment

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CONSULTANTS at a South Wales hospital used an unofficial form to ensure a fast-track NHS service for private patients.

A letter obtained by the Independent reveals that Mohamed Idris Khan, a consultant general surgeon at the Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, filled in the form which then went on NHS files. Other consultants at the hospital used the same form.

Under the NHS, a patient who is seen by a consultant at home usually receives preferential treatment: the fact that the doctor has taken the trouble to make a home visit is taken as a sign that the case is urgent or the patient is bed-ridden.

Blood tests, X-rays and admission to the hospital are given sooner to people whose notes indicate they have received a home or 'domiciliary' visit. Mr Khan's private patients were given a form headed 'Domiciliary Visits' which enabled them to receive this quicker NHS service.

A local politician wrote to Brian Jones, then general manager of the hospital, enclosing a copy of the form and asking what it was for. In his reply in April 1993, Mr Jones said the form 'is used by Mr M I Khan, but not for a record of domiciliary visits or domiciliary fee claims. It is used as a record of patients previously seen privately but now admitted legally into the NHS system'. He added that Mr Kahn rarely visited patients at home.

According to senior staff, the form enabled Mr Khan's private patients to jump ahead of more urgent NHS cases. They would be treated for minor ailments such as varicose veins and hernias, but avoid having to pay private hospital rates. They were also able to avoid having to pay expensive private charges for blood tests and X-rays.

Kelvin Redwood, Mr Jones's successor and Mr Khan's boss, said he ordered the surgeon to stop issuing the form last month. He claimed the form was not unique to Mr Khan - other staff consultants with private practices had also been using it to obtain NHS services.

Mr Redwood said he gave the order following an internal auditor's inquiry. In his report, the auditor, John Dornton, said he had found evidence that 'patients who have seen a consultant privately have been admitted to treatment after a shorter wait . . . than other NHS patients'. Mr Dornton also found that consultants, whom he did not name, arranged for private patients to receive 'tests on NHS terms (ie without payment)'.

From now on, Mr Redwood maintained, only official NHS forms would be used at the Prince Charles.

He acknowledged that it was 'a matter of concern' that Mr Khan had used unofficial forms for the benefit of his private patients. While it was not illegal, such a practice was, he said, 'undesirable'.

Mr Khan could not be contacted for comment.

(Photograph omitted)