Private clinics losing battle for patients: Leaked papers show 'aggression' of NHS hospitals paying off in 'aggressive' search for work

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The Independent Online
LEAKED National Health Service documents have disclosed that top private hospitals, including the well-known Harley Street Clinic, are being hit by competition for private patients from NHS hospitals.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, has urged NHS managers to seek more joint schemes with the private sector. But the papers reveal a developing battle for private business, which could alarm ministers and anger NHS patients on waiting lists.

The Royal Masonic and Cromwell hospitals have lost business to the NHS Charing Cross Hospital, and the Royal Masonic has been 'subject to receivership', the papers from the North West Thames Regional Health Authority say.

'It is believed that the increase in business at UCLH (University College London Hospital), the Royal Free, Guys Hospital, St Thomas' and King's College (all NHS) has prevented the Wellington, the London Clinic, the Harley Street Clinic, the London Bridge Hospital and the Churchill Clinic from increasing their share of insured patients.'

Although the number of people covered by private insurance had not increased in the last 18 months, the incidence of claims had risen, but the independent hospitals in London had lost the expected revenue increase to the NHS, they say.

The papers were leaked to the Labour Party, which protested at a proposal to convert a 28-bed ward in the new Chelsea and Westminster NHS hospital to 15 private rooms with en-suite facilities.

David Blunkett, the Labour spokesman on health, said it was 'scandalous' to privatise the beds when 350,000 NHS patients in London were waiting for treatment.

But the documents are likely to embarrass the private hospitals which, it is alleged, are suffering from the competition. They show that the NHS is aggressively seeking more private work. In spite of the recession, they say 6 million people are covered by private insurance and the number will increase.

One of the key reasons why the NHS is winning business, the papers say, is that consultants are bringing their private patients into the NHS hospitals.

'The independent private hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to compete for business. Consultants are attracted towards bringing private patients into their own NHS hospitals because of the valuable revenue which is obtained.

'In general, NHS private services are presently flourishing at the expense of the independent private sector,' the papers say.

The health authority estimates that the private patients at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital would generate annual income of about pounds 1.5m leaving a net surplus, after pounds 1,150,000 in pay and expenses, of pounds 350,000 a year.

Health ministers are planning to reform the procedure for complaints against GPs.

Complaints committees, comprising two lay persons and a member of the medical profession, are to be set up across the country to deal with less serious complaints. The most serious charges of 'serious professional misconduct', for which the GP could be struck off, would be handled by the profession at national level.

Ministers are concerned at low morale among GPs who face lengthy investigations into complaints. But they are also anxious to enable patients to have less serious complaints investigated. In most cases, the head of a practice will be expected to deal with the patient's complaint.

'In nearly 80 per cent of cases, the trouble can be resolved simply by saying 'sorry',' said one ministerial source. The ministers are also to revive a publicity campaign urging patients not to make night calls unless it is absolutely necessary.