Report on PFI hospital masks real problems, says Unison

2 Aug 01
A report that criticises the first Private Finance Initiative hospital to be opened in England has been labelled a 'whitewash' by public service union Unison.

03 August 2001

The criticism came as another union, the GMB, said private companies were set to make profits of up to £3.4bn over the next 30 years from health service PFI schemes, prompting its leader, John Edmonds, to claim the initiative had created 'a new breed of NHS loan shark'.

An independent inquiry into bed shortages during February at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle found that the hospital could not cope with emergency demand. It was forced to cancel several urgent operations, and some patients had to wait on trolleys in the casualty department before they were admitted.

The privately financed hospital, which opened in April 2000, had been the subject of severe criticism from unions and local doctors, as it had reduced bed numbers in the area from 834 to 729.

However, the report claimed the problems were not due to this fall in capacity but to a failure to develop alternatives to hospital care, lack of changes in referral patterns and longer than necessary hospital stays.

Peter Doyle, Unison's regional officer, was bemused by these conclusions. 'It is clearly a smokescreen and a whitewash. The report will take people's attention away from the large bed shortages. It gives the impression that if certain agencies work better together and beds were used better they would be able to solve the problem of bed-blocking. There are fewer beds and that's the cause of the problem and until this is resolved bed-blocking will continue,' he said.

However, North Cumbria Health Authority and Cumbria County Council, which jointly commissioned the report, insisted it had uncovered the reasons behind February's problems. 'There are pressures on beds across Britain; I am pleased Cumbria is tackling the issues head on,' said Robin MacLeod, the health authority's chief executive.

He was backed by John Mallinson, the council's Cabinet spokesman for care and social services. 'We need to work closely together to resolve these difficulties and we will now jointly develop services that will help alleviate pressures in the future,' he said.


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