NHS patients sent for treatment at smaller private hospitals are being put at risk because of unsafe staffing and facilities, according to a report by an anti-privatisation think-tank.
Nurses without specialist training, high levels of agency staff on post-operative wards and hygiene weaknesses were among the alleged risks identified by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest.
Analysis of 15 Care Quality Commission investigations into hospitals from each of England’s six main private chains found serious problems even in hospitals rated “good” by the regulator.
For example, Care UK’s Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, was given an overall rating of “good”, and also a “good” rating for surgery. Yet in the previous 12 months there had been four “never events” – serious patient safety incidents that should not occur. Similarly London’s Harley Street Clinic, run by HCA International, was rated as good overall, even though it “requires improvement” for both safety and the treatment of children.
“In these cases safety risks appear not to have been prioritised in the overall ratings,” said the report from the think-tank, which was set up to challenge the growing role of competition and markets in the health service.
Co-author Brian Toft, visiting professor of patient safety at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said: “This Government has prioritised transparency as a key to safety. But although more and more NHS patients are treated in private hospitals, there has been no concurrent commitment to bring private hospitals into the same transparency regime.” NHS patient admissions to private hospitals for surgery last year totalled nearly 500,000, or more than a quarter of all surgeries at private hospitals.
The private chains named in the report have dismissed any suggestion that patient safety was at risk.
Care UK said: “The report lets its political slant distort all the available evidence in a way that is potentially misleading to patients. Barlborough Treatment Centre was rigorously inspected and found to be ‘good’ in four of five areas and ‘outstanding’ in the fifth. All the evidence is that the service has excellent outcomes.”
The Harley Street Clinic said: “The Care Quality Commission’s overall rating of ‘good’ reflects the care we provide for complex medical conditions. We have acted on the recommendations made by the Care Quality Commission where appropriate.”
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