NHS told: send cancer patients to private hospitals so they can be treated

The NHS has been instructed by Sajid Javid to use private hospitals for cancer patients to prevent the surge in omicron cases delaying treatment, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Health Secretary told the NHS at the weekend that it needed to “urgently secure” private hospital staff, beds and equipment to boost capacity as increasing numbers of trusts declare “critical incidents” owing to staff shortages and rising numbers of Covid patients.

The private hospitals will be paid by the NHS to take patients for treatment including for some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing arrangements with the private sector.

Private hospitals will also be placed on standby in case any NHS trusts are overwhelmed by Covid patients and are unable to provide them with the urgent care they need.

Government sources said the move was designed to ensure the health service was not overwhelmed and therefore avoid further Covid restrictions similar to the curbs on socialising at pubs, clubs and sports venues introduced by Scotland and Wales.

“We are going to do everything we can to avoid more restrictions,” a Whitehall source told The Telegraph.

“Our lines of defence through vaccines, testing and antivirals are crucial and holding up but we are also boosting NHS capacity as much as we can.

“Sajid wants the NHS to make use of the independent sector if needed. The aim is to ensure as much capacity as possible is available to help the NHS get through the Omicron wave.”

So far, 25 NHS trusts have declared critical incidents, with bosses saying services are in danger of being overwhelmed by new patients.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that the quality of care was “under real pressure” in hospitals and that the risks to patient safety were getting worse in the hardest-hit areas, largely outside London.

Week-on-week Covid case growth by English region

Some trusts already on par with last January

While he believed the NHS in London may have peaked at around 50 per cent of the Covid caseload compared with last January’s crisis, he said other regions were still two or three weeks off with cases at up to 68 per cent of last January’s peak. Some trusts were already on a par with last January.

“Using this measure, they are already under greater pressure than London has been, before they reach their expected peak of covid hospitalisations,” said Mr Hopson.

“Some trusts are already struggling significantly. Hence the number of critical incidents declared in the last 10 days. Anecdotal comparisons show some trusts already running at 100 per cent of their Jan 2021 peak and some predict reaching at least 130 per cent this week.”

The Health Secretary’s move echoes a similar deal struck in March 2020 when private hospitals agreed to provide more beds, ventilators and thousands of extra healthcare staff to help the NHS fight against Covid.

That deal, thought to cost around £400 million, included 20,000 fully qualified staff being offered to help the NHS, comprising 10,000 nurses and 700 doctors. It also included nearly 1,200 ventilators.

The NHS’s use of private sector capacity has been up 15 per cent on pre-pandemic levels in the past year. This has included contracting out more than 70,000 day cases, almost 2,800,000 surgical procedures and more than 500,000 diagnostic tests in the last year.

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