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Private hospitals 'kept afloat' with NHS cash despite providing less healthcare than before pandemic

PRIVATE hospitals provided less healthcare to the NHS during the pandemic than they did in 2019, despite receiving £1 billion in government funding, the People’s Covid Inquiry has heard.

The Covid contracts to private hospitals were supposed to support 8,000 beds for NHS patients, the inquiry heard, but they provided for only 67 patients per day at the pandemic’s peak.

The seventh session of the inquiry, organised by Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), on Wednesday evening heard from medical professionals and academics.

Professor David McCoy, of Queen Mary University of London and the Centre for Health and Public Interest (CPHI), spoke about the as yet unpublished report by the think tank.

He told the online inquiry: “The contract stated that around 8,000 beds would be made available to the NHS [and] there was a stated number of doctors, nurses and other clinical workers, but a large amount of that capacity wasn’t actually used to deal with the Covid pandemic.

“CHPI have estimated that over the course of the pandemic on average there was one Covid patient per day in the private hospital sector, and at the peak at most something like 67.”

Mr McCoy said that the cost could have been between £170m to £400m per month.

“So over 12 months over a billion pounds went into the private hospital sector and the amount of activity that was then provided can be considered quite minimal,” he said.

“In fact, what we estimate is that the amount of NHS-funded healthcare during this period was less than the amount in the preceding year.”

Mr McCoy said Covid-19 had provided an opportunity to ensure the longevity of funding to the private sector and in doing so, poses a threat to the future of the NHS as a fully public system.

He said: “The government has set aside a budget in order to continue to pay for NHS patients in the private hospital sector as part of a four-year programme which aims to allocate £2.5bn a year to the private hospital sector.

“This is about double the amount of NHS-funded care provided in the private sector compared to 2018 and 2019.”

When asked if the government made mistakes during the pandemic regarding health provision, Mr McCoy questioned whether they were mistakes, “or are they really part of a commitment to a privatisation of the health system?”

He warned that with continued privatisation “fundamental principles of the NHS will be eroded,” resulting in ineffective universal healthcare.

The inquiry also heard from British Medical Association deputy chairman Dr David Wrigley, who warned that an increase in private provision would lead to fewer opportunities for training doctors.  

We Own It campaigns officer Pascale Robinson called the findings “absolutely shocking.”

She told the Star: “We were told at the start of the pandemic that these private-sector deals were vital.

“We’ve seen now that this was a lie and the private hospital sector was never going to deliver the capacity our health service desperately needed.

“Instead, private companies have hoovered up masses of public cash while delivering little.

“The truth is that the best, most effective and most affordable way to deliver quality healthcare — in an emergency or outside of it — is to invest properly in our NHS, publicly funded and publicly delivered.

“With waiting lists growing, it is absolutely vital the government learns this lesson, funds the NHS and stops splashing out on pointless, wasteful deals with the private sector.”

Writer and campaigner Michael Rosen, who fell ill with Covid-19 last year, told the People’s Inquiry that a public inquiry — not promised by the government until 2022 — was needed “now, or if possible, yesterday.”

He said: “There were serious errors that this government made last year. And the problem is that the same people who committed those errors are still there now.”

Tory MPs rejected Labour’s attempts on Wednesday night to make the government publish its internal review of its handling of the crisis, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed last week to have been conducted ahead of a public inquiry.

Labour argued in Parliament that publishing the document would ensure better scrutiny of the government’s current response to the Indian variant.

But the opposition’s Queen’s Speech amendment seeking the release of the review was rejected in Commons by 367 votes to 264.

A separate report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the pandemic had “laid bare existing fault lines within society and has exacerbated inequalities.”

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