Â£9m NHS cash spent privately
More than Â£9m of local NHS money went to a private Blackpool hospital last year.
The sum was paid to Spire Fylde Coast Hospital after Monitor, which regulates health services in the UK, ordered health commissioners to offer patients a choice of where they are treated.
Anti-privatisation campaigners say the cash could have helped boost cash-strapped Victoria Hospital’s coffers, while Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), said patients have the right to take control of their own care.
Spire said work is carried out at the same price as it would cost at the Vic, and said the NHS was using private healthcare firms to meet waiting list targets and demand.
But in April, The Gazette revealed how health bosses at Spire and Blackpool CCG were at loggerheads over charges after a £2m overspend.
In 2015/16, the two CCGs paid a total of £9.25m to the private hospital, in St Walburgas Road, up from £7.26m the year before and £6.29m in 2013/14, figures sent to the 38 Degrees Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre NHS Support Group by chief financial officer Andrew Harrison showed.
At the same time, the hospital’s bank balance has dwindled from £25m in early 2014 to an expected £200,000 by next April.
Coun David Owen, chairman of 38 Degrees locally, said: “The Vic’s finances are on a tightrope because the trust which runs it has gone through all its reserves.
“The family silver has now been spent and the cupboard is bare, and part of the reason is the competition it is facing from Spire.”
Last year, Monitor, now part of NHS Improvement, dismissed claims commissioners were directing patients away from Spire towards the Victoria Hospital, but upheld Spire’s complaint that patients were not being offered a choice of hospitals for routine surgery.
Dr Tony Naughton, chief clinical officer at Fylde and Wyre CCG, said: “Everyone who is cared for by the NHS in England has formal rights to make choices about the service they receive.
“These include the right to choose which hospital they are treated at.
“A great deal of work has gone on across the Fylde coast recently to promote patient choice.”
As well as being referred to Spire through the NHS, patients are treated there through private medical insurance, or by paying for care themselves.
Procedures carried out there include orthopaedic; general surgery; ear, nose, and throat care; gynaecology, and urology.
Hospital director, Barbara Cummings, said: “We are supporting the local commissioners across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre to deliver on their statutory obligations to provide elective surgical care to patients within the prescribed 18 week waiting time target.
“The additional capacity we provide is accessed through local GPs who support their patients in choosing, in accordance with legislation introduced by the Labour Government in 2007, a Spire Healthcare hospital as an alternative.
“We work closely with the commissioning groups, and see our services as complementary and supportive of the local health economy.”
Health bosses at Spire and Blackpool CCG were at loggerheads over charges after a £2m overspend.
An extra 160 patients were treated at Spire Fylde Coast Hospital costing the taxpayer £2m last year, with the 33 per cent hike in costs – compared to a 2.6 per cent rise in patient numbers – being partly blamed for the CCG ending the year with a £500,000 surplus, instead of a predicted £2.5m one.
Spire said the CCG under-estimated how busy the hospital would be, but the CCG said the sum ‘greatly exceeds what we predicted and agreed with Spire and is a greater increase than from any other hospital’.
In an open letter, Coun David Owen has asked the area’s MPs whether they intend to be at a debate on an anti-privatisation bill, and how they will vote.
On Friday, November 4, the NHS Reinstatement Bill will be discussed in Parliament and, if eventually passed, would put a stop to NHS services being put to tender with private firms.
It will be the fifth time the bill has been up for debate after being successfully reintroduced by Labour MP Margaret Greenwood in July.
In his letter, Coun Owen said: “The bill is a cross-party piece of legislation aimed at putting a stop to privatisation, and re-introducing the planned, state-managed health system that worked so well for more than 60 years.
“At 38 Degrees, we believe the bill will bring back the national, universal service we all remember so fondly, and get rid of the expensive, chaotic, [and] internal and external markets that have been allowed to develop.”