The failure to purchase private hospital beds is a national scandal
Rob Bird, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Kent County Council, reports.
On Saturday I was saddened to learn that a dear friend had died. She was in her mid eighties but was full of life. She had recently been admitted to hospital for a routine operation. There she had contracted Covid-19 and she subsequently died. I was sad, and I was angry.
No doubt our hospitals have strong infection control, but even the best regimes have risks for both staff and patients. Meanwhile, hospital staff are having to work under intense pressure, struggling to cope with the onslaught of Covid patients as well as trying to maintain crucial non-Covid related treatments and operations where possible. With the NHS on the brink of collapse, more and more of these vital operations have been cancelled.
But things could have been different …..
Ten months ago, the Government bulk purchased thousands of beds in private hospitals to help maintain vital non-Covid treatments. Astonishingly, only 1/3 of these beds were used in the first 6 months. The Treasury then decided that these arrangements were too expensive and consequently Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, decided not to extend the contracts.
Instead, the new arrangements were based on the utilisation of private hospital beds in the Autumn, when Covid related hospital admissions were low and the pressure on the NHS was reduced.
According to one of the Sunday newspapers, the Department of Health claims that 'the NHS is working closely and flexibly with independent sector providers to secure more capacity to provide services including cancer surgery, diagnostics and treatments to help alleviate pressures on our acute hospitals across England through a combination of national and local deals.'
Too little, too late.
We wanted to know what arrangements are currently in place for Kent. We recently sent Freedom of Information requests to the four NHS trusts responsible for Kent's front-line NHS hospitals.
Both Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust and Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust confirmed that they have no private hospital beds booked and no private beds in use. East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (responsible for Kent and Canterbury, QEQM and William Harvey hospitals) has purchased just 22 private hospital beds, but was unable to advise how many of these are currently occupied. We are still awaiting a response from the Medway NHS Foundation Trust.
Kent has many first class private hospitals. For these facilities and their staff not to be used to support the NHS and to help treat seriously ill NHS patients at this time of crisis, is nothing short of scandalous. If I was working on the front line in the NHS, I would be distraught. If my friend had had her operation in one of Kent's private hospitals, perhaps she would be with us now.
This is mind-boggling Government incompetence. There are no excuses. I am angry; we should all be angry.