Private hospitals – ‘lack facilities to deal with emergencies’

A worrying report from Vivek Chaudhary in The Independent regarding senior doctors warning that NHS patients can put their lives at risk by opting for operations in private hospitals which lack the facilities to deal with emergencies if things go wrong.

More than a quarter of the 1.6 million operations conducted by private hospitals last year were carried out on NHS patients and GPs are increasingly being encouraged to refer more of them to the private sector, partly to ease the burden on NHS hospitals.

Doctors are also warning that guidelines governing private hospitals, particularly concerning deaths and other serious cases, are not as stringent as they are in the NHS.

The Centre for Health and Public Interest, a leading medical think-tank, found that between 2010 and 2014, 800 patients, including those referred by the NHS, died unexpectedly in private hospitals. It also documented several cases where mistakes had been made by private hospitals but not detected until up to a year later. In one incident, surgeons had replaced the wrong knee joint on three separate patients.

SurgeryColin Leys, author of the report, told BBC’s London Inside Out programme, due to be broadcast tonight: “In the NHS, you have a national reporting and learning system that is independently operated, to which all hospitals must report serious incidents and if they see a pattern building up they intervene and that doesn’t happen for private hospitals.

“In any given year, about 200 patients die unexpectedly in private hospitals… we don’t know who they are, why it happened we just know that it happens. It’s surprising because private hospitals on the whole don’t take any patient that is high risk.”

A survey carried out by, the largest professional online network for doctors in the UK, reveals that 53 per cent of consultants believe the management of emergencies in private care is less safe than the NHS. It also found that 72 per cent of private hospitals do not have a Critical Care Unit which is permanently staffed by at least one doctor around the clock, seven days a week.

Another survey by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest found that in a year, there are 6,000 transfers from private hospitals in England to NHS hospitals, of which 2,500 are emergencies.

Professor Peter Taylor, a vascular surgeon who retired  last year after working for 25 years in the NHS and private sector, told the programme: “If something unusual  happens then it can have very serious consequences. The difficulty come when there are emergency cases which occur particularly out of hours when you don’t have the fallback that you have in the NHS.”

Staffing is another area where private hospitals were found to be lacking. Only 45 per cent of private hospitals were found to have an emergency anaesthetist on call, without whom operations cannot take place.

Inside Out London is broadcast tonight on BBC1 at 7.30pm

Your Life in Their Hands  – the long-running BBC TV documentary series from 1958 on the subject of surgery was titled so adequately – wasn’t it?”

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