Patients who have been transferred for NHS care following private hospital treatment have cost the NHS more than £250 million in recent years.
The figure was revealed in a report by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, an anti-privatisation research group, which warns the independent sector has fundamental safety flaws, with surgeons unavailable in some locations and one junior doctor in charge of up to 96 private beds.
More than a third of private hospitals fail to provide vital safety data and a repeat of the scandal where the rogue breast cancer surgeon Ian Paterson maimed hundreds of women remains possible unless they change their business models, the report warns.
The Times reported Spire Healthcare, where Paterson worked privately, initially tried to sue the NHS over compensation for victims, arguing the company was simply the owner of facilities, not an employer. It later backed down and paid out £27.2 million. The NHS has paid out more than £10 million in this case.
Colin Leys, author of the report, said the case “highlights a central feature of the private hospital business model. The impact of this model is far-reaching, from putting patients at risk by not directly employing surgeons and junior doctors, to placing a clinical and financial burden on nearby NHS hospitals when complications require patients to be transferred to them.”
During a three-year period, 23,000 patients were transferred from private to NHS hospitals, each staying for an average duration of two weeks. The report uses NHS pricing data to calculate that this cost taxpayers £255 million.
Mr Leys added: “Without changes there is no reason to believe that a tragedy similar to the Paterson case will not occur in the future.” Paterson was jailed for 20 years.
Private hospitals are required to report data to the Private Healthcare Information Network, but its chairman, Andrew Vallance-Owen, said recently that there was “an urgent need for greater transparency”.
Howard Freeman, clinical director of the NHS Partners Network, said: “Independent-sector hospitals deliver overwhelmingly safe and effective care. The most recent Care Quality Commission State of Care report said that 71 per cent were good or outstanding.”