NHS preparing strategy for private patient units

PPU Watch

Compiled by Philip Housden

NHS England and NHS Improve­ment Commercial are preparing a national strategy for Private Patient Development.

They have brought in Latchmore Associates to provide external strategic advice and support on how the NHS private patient offer in England could be optimised to generate the most efficient and effective return on investment.

It is hoped the strategy will address the current regional variations across England and provide practical options, solutions and enablers to support private patient growth in trusts, which will include an assessment of investment opportunities. 

The NHS Revenue and Finance Contracting Guidance for 2022-23 supports increasing private patient revenues, currently estimated at around £600m, but now bouncing back from the Covid-affected total of £380m in 2020-21. 

The total England private patient market is worth around £7b a year and NHSEI estimates the NHS share of this private patient market could be increased by up to £800m a year if best practice were to be shared to maximise opportunities based on the strengths and unique selling points of the NHS. 

It is expected that the strategy and supporting plans will be available later this year.

Barts private unit to restore activity to pre-Covid levels

Following the recent opening of the £70m, 55-bed, three-theatre and 26-consulting room Nuffield Health at St Bartholomew’s Hosp­ital last month (see ‘A peek at the City’s newest private hospital’), the trust is aiming to optimise utilisation of spare and fallow capacity without jeopardising the delivery of NHS services. 

As I write, there is no ring-fenced or dedicated beds and clinical capacity for private patient care. 

Two beds created from redundant space at the trust’s Newham Gateway Surgical Centre for private patient care have not been used for the intended purpose, due to  the prioritisation of the recovery of NHS services, but will now be put into action. 

The Gateway Surgical Centre, in the grounds of Newham Hospital, has 39 beds supporting day care and elective surgery from three operating theatres. 

The two private care beds were created to make use of operating theatre down times and consultants’ own private time for potential private patient care. 

A spokesperson said: ‘There are multiple resultant benefits to NHS services, as all the revenue goes to the NHS services. Revenue from using theatre “down time” goes to contribute to the fixed costs. There are many NHS patients on the waiting lists who are capable and looking to pay for their care. 

‘These patients are being treated in independent hospitals by consultants in their private time. Offering them the facility to treat the patients in an NHS hospital brings the much-needed funds into the NHS, takes the patient off the waiting list, and potentially frees up a slot for another NHS patient to receive care.’

The 2020-21 trust’s annual accounts reported that total private patient revenues were £1.56m, down 70% from £5.3m pre-Covid. This represents a decline from 0.36% to 0.1% of total trust income.

Philip Housden (right) is a director of Housden Group