Is there a place for private healthcare in the NHS?
This topic has come into the spotlight again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global scenes of health services overwhelmed and struggling to cope with the volume of seriously ill patients caused by COVID-19 enforced the government message of the importance of protecting our own NHS throughout lockdown.
The need to protect the NHS and conserve its capacity to ensure our health service was not overwhelmed led to controversial procurement processes to ensure continuity of care for patients.
The role of private healthcare during the pandemic
The sharp increase of patients needing to be hospitalised led to the contracting of private hospitals to increase NHS capacity. Initial controversy surrounded the bypassing of the ‘usual’ Public Contracts Regulations 2015 procurement process, carried out to speed up the procurement process. The value of contracts totalling £1.6 billion caused a second wave of controversy, when it was reported that between June and September 2020, two thirds of the block-booked extra capacity beds in private hospitals had not been used.
However, throughout 2021, the use of private sector facilities was 15% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, as the NHS outsourced procedures which had been postponed during lockdown. The effort to ease extensive waiting lists shows the role that private healthcare can play within the NHS, with almost 2,800,000 surgical procedures outsourced in 2021.
The ‘NHS Increasing Capacity Framework’ is currently live, with contracts totalling up to £10 billion, providing extra capacity over 4 years from October 2020. This has replaced the approach from the start of the pandemic, ensuring a focus on reducing waiting lists including chemotherapy, diagnostics tests, consultations, and operations.
With waiting lists continuing to be oversubscribed for the foreseeable future, outsourcing capacity to private healthcare can continue to help patients access the care that they need when waiting lists are long. The key is to ensure responsible and appropriate procurement processes are followed to keep patient care and experience at the centre.
Written by Sophie Burton, Senior Plan Manager