NHSs landmark decision looks to private sector to help winter crisis

1 Jun 00
The Department of Health is planning to include private health providers in contingency plans to avoid a repeat of last winter's hospital beds crisis.

02 June 2000

The step is being seen as a precursor to a much greater use of the private sector by the NHS.

Last week's circular to trusts, health authorities and primary care groups said that they should work with independent providers to avoid a shortfall of beds in the winter.

'To maximise local capacity, NHS organisations can enter into partnership agreements with independent health care providers where this offers demonstrable value for money and clear standards for patients,' says the circular.

It added that trusts with critical care facilities should 'work to build integrated networks across health economies, including critical care for the range of specialities and involving the independent sector, ensuring services for all patients within a geographic area'.

Previously, guidance from the DoH had indicated that the private sector should only be used where it could be justified – in effect, as a last resort.

However, the DoH denied that there had been a change of direction. A spokeswoman said: 'There is nothing new there at all. We have always said that there is no ideological barrier in using private services if we need to.

'If the capacity is there and the capacity is needed – for example, in winter – we will turn to the private sector. We did it last year and we will do it this year. It is just good contingency planning.'

It was, though, described as 'a landmark' by the Independent Healthcare Association, representing 'a much fairer approach'. It said that it was clear that Health Secretary Alan Milburn was implementing a promise made by the prime minister in February.

Tim Evans, public affairs director of the IHA, said: 'Following Tony Blair's insistence that the independent sector is fully mobilised for the advantage of the NHS, the IHA is delighted that the Department of Health and the NHS are making good Mr Blair's promise.

'This can only be good news for NHS patients, their relatives and the thousands of people who work in the independent sector.'


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