Despite massive government payments, private hospitals provided less healthcare to the NHS during the pandemic than they did in 2019, inquiry hears

Press Release on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public- for IMMEDIATE USE, 25 May 2021

Last night at the seventh session of campaigning organisation Keep Our NHS Public’s [1] People’s Covid Inquiry, [2] (entitled Profiteering from the people’s health? [3]) the panel heard from Professor David McCoy (Global Health Medicine, Institute of Population Health Sciences, QMUL; Centre for Health and the Public Interest) who drew on as yet unpublished CHPI research in saying that the government contract with private hospitals delivered less services to the NHS during the pandemic than it had in 2019, despite around £1bn of government spending:

“The contract stated that around 8,000 beds would be made available to the NHS…in addition there was a stated number of doctors nurses and other clinical workers…a large amount of that capacity wasn’t actually used to deal with the Covid pandemic…CHPI have estimated that over the cause of the pandemic on average there was one Covid patient per day in the private hospital sector, and at the peak at most something like 67 patients…we were paying for the entire capacity at the full running cost of the private hospitals…overall in terms of the total cost…we think the amount was about £170m per month…could have been as much as £400m per month, so over 12 months over a billion pounds went into the private hospital sector and the amount of activity that was then provided can be considered quite minimal. In fact what we estimate is that the amount of NHS funded healthcare during this period was less than the amount of NHS funded healthcare provided in the private hospital sector in the preceding year.”

McCoy went onto to explain how Covid-19 had provided an opportunity to ensure longevity of funding to the private sector and in doing so, pose a threat the future of the NHS as a fully public system:

“There were some structural effects as a result of this [government] deal. The private hospitals were actually facing real jeopardy with the Covid pandemic, seeing a decline in demand from privately funded patients and as a result facing real financial trouble, and this deal really helped keep private hospitals afloat, so to some extent you can see this as a contract that allowed private hospitals to survive the Covid pandemic. Subsequent to this is that the contract has continued…the government has set aside a budget in order to continue to pay for NHS patients in the private hospital sector and this is part of a 4 year program which aims to allocate £2.5bn a year to the private hospital sector, which is about double the amount of NHS funded care provided in the private sector compared to 2018 and 2019. So not only will there be a continued stream of public funding going into the private hospital sector, but by helping to maintain the private hospital sector it is also in a really good position to reap some of the benefits from Covid. All of the unmet demand for elective care built up during pandemic will potentially increase the private demand …so there will be a continued stream of public funding going into the private hospital sector to help it survive the Covid pandemic, and now potentially to help it thrive.”

“The 4 year contract would effectively double the amount of private hospital care compared to 2018/19. Prior to the pandemic something like 18% of public funds went to the private sector (excluding GPs) but that figure will likely rise…also there’s the possibility that we will see a rise in private funding into the hospital sector and this will have structural effects on the health service as a whole, increasing problems around the creation of a two-tier system and I suppose for some segments of society, a decrease in the commitment to the NHS as a public service that is universal in nature.”

Asked whether the government in his opinion made mistakes during the Covid pandemic with regard to health provision, McCoy said:

“Its interesting how we phrase this. Are they mistakes, or are they really part of a commitment to a privatisation of the health system, in which case you could argue that they’re not mistakes but very much part of a deliberate policy. I think the big concern here is that we are seeing evidence of a continuation of a policy to privatise large parts of the health system, we’re definitely seeing the likely growth of publicly funded private hospital care as a result of this new framework and we’re likely to see a rise in private financing within the health system. All of this will essentially erode some of the fundamental principles of the NHS. In my view this will result in inefficiencies of healthcare at a population level…to shareholders these are not mistakes, but the result of very active lobbying over many years…”

Last nights session of the Peoples Covid Inquiry also heard from Dr David Wrigley (GP and Deputy Chair of the BMA) who spoke about his concerns over the possibly unforeseen consequences of an increase in private provision, as there would be less opportunity for training doctors:

“The private hospitals have no desire or willingness to do this training because it may slow procedures down, or it may mean you can’t have as many patients going through the theatre…it could have a devastating affect on the training of our young doctors for the future because patients are going through the private hospitals and no trainee will get anywhere near them. If the private sector expanded then this is something that really does need addressing.”

Spokespeople are available for interview (subject to availability). Contact Samantha Wathen, Press Officer for Keep Our NHS Public [email protected] or Call/WhatsApp: 0777 6047472

Notes to editors

  1. Keep Our NHS Public is a national independent organisation campaigning for a well-funded, publicly owned and provided NHS
  2.  A host of leading academics, celebrities, campaigning groups and unions together with frontline workers and members of the public, will give evidence in an attempt to learn lessons from the events surrounding this pandemic. In the absence of an arranged formal public investigation, campaigners believe that the time for a Covid Inquiry is now, in order to analyse why this country has suffered over 100,000 deaths, and what lessons should be learned to inform future decision and policy making. The 2 remaining sessions will take place fortnightly until June and focus on different topics relevant to the pandemic. The People’s Covid Inquiry will culminate in a report with conclusions and a set of recommendations which will be presented to the government. Testimony gathered will provide the basis for evidence-based recommendations on the provision of health and social care in the UK, including the future funding and organisation of the NHS. Sessions are free to access and open to all.
  3. Watch the session here: