News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Privately run surgery centres for NHS patients proposed

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.327.7416.640-e (Published 18 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:640
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    The UK government announced last week that private companies have been invited to negotiate contracts to run 26 new treatment centres throughout England.

    The 24 centres and two mobile units will perform non-urgent surgery, including knee and hip replacements and cataract surgery, on NHS patients. They will add to more than 20 diagnostic and treatment centres already functioning; these, however, are all managed by the NHS.

    The government announced a shortlist of preferred providers to run the treatment centres, including two companies from the United Kingdom, two from the United States, two from South Africa, and one from Canada. They are being invited to negotiate final contracts, which will only be agreed if they provide the required value for money, with the aim of having some of the services functioning by early 2004 and the programme being fully operational by 2005.

    The government claimed that the centres would reduce waiting times for routine surgery. The health secretary, John Reid, said: “Tens of thousands of NHS patients will have their operations quicker as a result of this initiative, free at the point of use. The new treatment centres are just one part of the reforms that are helping to increase capacity in the NHS at an unprecedented rate.

    “But although the NHS is growing quickly, even more capacity is needed to ensure that patients wait no longer than six months by the end of 2005. That is why we are working with the independent sector to provide additional operations to cut waiting times for NHS patients.”

    It is estimated that the independent treatment centres will provide 250 000 operations a year–the transfer of 115 000 operations already planned by the NHS and 135 000 additional procedures.

    Organisations representing health professionals were concerned that the treatment centres could destabilise the NHS by poaching staff. BMA chairman James Johnson said, “Any move that truly increases capacity and provides extra operations over and above what the NHS can do at the moment is good news for patients. However, there is a big but: diagnostic treatment centres must not take staff or resources away from NHS hospitals.”

    He added, “There is no point of having up to 70% of the staff in direct treatment centres coming from the NHS, if that leaves hospitals short of doctors to carry out all the other work that trusts provide for patients around the clock.”

    The department of health said that contracts will state that those providing the new centres cannot poach staff. A spokesperson said that the staff mix will include personnel from overseas, independent staff and staff seconded from the NHS at the request of purchasers.

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