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Private hospitals treated just eight Covid patients a day during the pandemic, report says

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Private hospitals treated just eight Covid patients a day during the pandemic despite receiving billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash, according to a report.

The Treasury agreed in March last year to book the entire capacity of 7,956 beds in England’s 187 private hospitals along with almost 20,000 staff.

The move, believed to have cost around £400million a month, was intended to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

But the Centre for Health and the Public Interest think-tank says private hospitals treated no Covid patients at all on 39 per cent of days between March 2020 and March this year, when the contract ended. On a further 20 per cent of days they cared for only one. 

Some private hospitals were meant to be operating as ‘Covid-free hubs’ to get back up and running for vulnerable people, including cancer patients.

But experts said ‘very few’ of these patients were being referred to the hospitals, leaving them almost completely empty.

It meant ‘tens of thousands’ of cancer patients — who needed urgent treatment to boost their survival rates — may have missed out on vital treatment. 

The Government also forked out more than £500million on seven Nightingale Hospitals last year, set up in convention centres and large venues, in case NHS wards were overloaded with patients.

But hospitals never were overwhelmed and the Nightingales saw only light use as rehabilitation centres before being mothballed and then some reopened for vaccinations in the winter. Six of the hospitals closed for good in spring.

Private hospitals treated just eight Covid patients a day during the pandemic despite receiving billions of pounds of taxpayers' cash, according to a report

Private hospitals treated just eight Covid patients a day during the pandemic despite receiving billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash, according to a report

Private hospitals completed only two million NHS-funded planned procedures during the first year of the pandemic — down 43 per cent on the previous year

Private hospitals completed only two million NHS-funded planned procedures during the first year of the pandemic — down 43 per cent on the previous year

The Treasury agreed in March last year to book the entire capacity of 7,956 beds in England's 187 private hospitals along with almost 20,000 staff (file photo)

The Treasury agreed in March last year to book the entire capacity of 7,956 beds in England’s 187 private hospitals along with almost 20,000 staff (file photo)

London’s Nightingale hospital ‘did not have the systems of care we needed’ senior doctor tells inquest 

A senior doctor at London‘s NHS Nightingale Hospital has told an inquest into the death of a Covid patient he had ‘no control’ over equipment or staff and the hospital did not have ‘the systems of care we thought we needed’.

London bus driver Kishorkumar Patel, 58, was one of the first patients to be transferred to the flagship Nightingale, which was opened last year by then health secretary Matt Hancock, for coronavirus treatment on April 7.

Despite being described as ‘physiologically stable’ before he was transferred, the father-of-six, who had no underlying health conditions, died 19 days later on April 26. 

He was one of three patients to die at the ExCel Centre in Newham, East London, after staff left his intensive care ventilator without heat and moisture exchange (HME) filters, according to a Serious Incident Report (SIR).

HME filters are placed at the patient’s end of the breathing system in order to humidify the airway in the machine and prevent the build of mucus, which in turn can block a patient’s airways and endotracheal (ET) tube.  

But the staff error, which saw them use the wrong filter in the ventilation circuits, led to the breathing tubes in three patients becoming blocked and saw all of them ‘suffer harm’ and require re-intubation.

During the inquest earlier this week Dr Alastair Proudfoot, the clinical lead at London’s Nightingale, told coroner Nadia Persaud the hospital did not have ‘the systems of care we thought we needed’ amid the first wave of the pandemic.

The CHPI report showed of the 3.6million days that Covid patients occupied hospital beds over those 13 months, only 3,000 were in private hospitals — just 0.08 of the total.

It means, on average, there were 8.1 Covid patients in private hospitals on any given day, compared with 9,977 in NHS beds.

Meanwhile, private hospitals completed only two million NHS-funded planned procedures during the first year of the pandemic — down 43 per cent on the previous year. 

Sid Ryan, a researcher at the CHPI who wrote the report, told The Guardian: ‘Despite the fact that the taxpayer paid undisclosed billions to the private hospital sector, which prevented some of the companies going bust, the official data shows that they barely treated any Covid patients and delivered less elective work for the NHS than they did prior to the pandemic.’

He said the NHS’s ‘under utilisation of the private hospital sector’ is not surprising.

Mr Ryan added: ‘Private hospitals may have beds and operating theatres, but they rely on NHS staff to carry out operations, and these NHS staff were busy working in NHS hospitals. 

‘Which begs the question: why then did the Government agree to this generous deal?’

The nearly 8,000 private beds bought up by ministers in England in March cost an estimated £2.4million a day.

Senior clinicians at private hospitals claimed hundreds of the country’s best doctors were left ‘twiddling their thumbs’ during the outbreak – putting people’s health at risk from other illnesses and postponed operations.

It has left private patients with no option but to join huge NHS waiting lists triggered by the pandemic.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said hospitals have only been able to carry out around ’15 to 20 per cent’ of surgeries, meaning up to 1.3million patients are missing out every month. 

In one case, a 78-year-old woman with breast cancer was denied surgery at a private clinic by the local NHS manager even though the hospital was empty, according to The Times

The patient was instead referred back to the NHS. 

Cancer Research says almost 2.5million patients have missed out on vital cancer tests and treatment due to shocking backlogs during the crisis.

The Nightingale Hospital in London was one of seven temporary hospitals opened by then health secretary Matt Hancock at the start of the pandemic last year

The Nightingale Hospital in London was one of seven temporary hospitals opened by then health secretary Matt Hancock at the start of the pandemic last year

The revelations about private hospitals come after the Government closed all but one of the seven mostly unused Nightingale hospitals it opened to help deal with the pandemic.

Many Nightingales stood empty for months, despite ministers hailing them as a ‘solution’ to the Covid crisis when they were first opened to huge fan-fare.

Sunderland’s make-shift facility, which wasn’t used at all during the pandemic, remained closed. 

London’s — which was opened by Prince Charles — was dismantled, with unused beds sent to other struggling hospitals across the capital.

Others were re-purposed to treat non-Covid patients to take the pressure off main hospitals, with some becoming vaccination centres. 

Manchester’s was open for ‘non-Covid care’, while locations in Bristol and Harrogate operated as ‘specialist diagnostics centres’ or for local medics.

Only Exeter’s Nightingale was being used to treat Covid patients over Christmas, with figures showing there were 28 people on its wards on December 23.

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust has purchased the facility on behalf of and supported by other nearby trusts.

It is based on the former Homebase site in Sowton Industrial Estate in the city and treated 250 patients during the pandemic.

The trust said it was unable to disclose the exact price paid for the building but it cost £11million to build. Insiders familiar with the sale say it was in line with ‘market prices’.



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