Hospital purchase points the way for health service

9 Aug 01
The National Health Service found a short cut to improvement this week with its first purchase of a ready-made private sector hospital since 1948.

10 August 2001

An announcement that the Department of Health would keep an open mind about further acquisitions suggested that this avenue could run alongside the more root-and-branch route to reform.

The DoH bought the Heart Hospital for the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust for £27.5m on August 7. A department spokesman said it would 'not rule out' further purchases, although NHS sources said a widespread buy-out of private facilities was unlikely.

Robert Naylor, UCLH's chief executive, said: 'By buying this superbly equipped and staffed hospital, we will have a world-class service in a matter of weeks rather than years.'

The 95-bed hospital, which had been sold off as surplus by the NHS in the past, will become the trust's cardiac department next month. The 162 staff will transfer to the NHS under their current pay and conditions until their contracts expire.

Naylor said the new unit would more than double the trust's cardiac care capacity. Waiting lists would shorten because heart operations would rise from 750 to 1,600 a year.

A trust spokeswoman confirmed that its £422m redevelopment, which is being carried out under the Private Finance Initiative, would not be affected by the purchase. Indeed, it will free 76 beds for use by orthopaedic and urology patients.

Former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Richard Needham, chairman of the Heart Hospital, said building a similar unit from scratch would have cost millions of pounds more. 'This is the best private cardiac facility in Europe and it matches anywhere else in the world,' he said.

Unison gave the purchase qualified support. 'Any initiative that brings extra capacity into the NHS has to be welcomed but we have reservations about the value for money the deal represents and any ring-fencing deals for private patients,' a spokeswoman said.

'We have heard a lot of talk from the government about the need to bring private sector expertise into the NHS but this is a clear example where the private sector is not offering a panacea for the NHS.'

The Department of Health said it expected the number of private operations at the hospital to fall from the present figure of 600 a year, although it would continue to accept paying patients. The trust confirmed that the income from these operations would go to the NHS.


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