The NHS dominates the provision and delivery of healthcare in England, but a significant under utilised resource exists in the form of the private healthcare sector.
Some may wince at the thought of a publicly funded system potentially working in collaboration with the independent sector, but, as pressure on the NHS heightens, it is time to stop thinking about it as a competition and, indeed, embrace the service that these facilities provide. Here, Howgate Sable partner Mark Iliffe discusses how the private sector can be good for the state of healthcare in the UK.
The regular challenges presented to the NHS over the winter period have been more severe than ever this year, proven by the record low percentage of emergency patients being treated within four hours. This is despite the NHS suspending thousands of non-urgent procedures, a move it was hoped would free up hospital resource and make it less reliant on emergency funding from the government.
As ever, these solutions barely papered over the cracks. The extension of the policy on non-urgent care resulted in the deferral of thousands of operations, leaving many patients desperately in need of new hips and knees, for example, and causing both physical and mental suffering. They will now require further support, which may not have been necessary had their procedure been conducted in a timely manner. At the same time, many private hospitals have unused resources – spare beds, theatre capacity and surplus equipment.
There are a number of external factors that are not helpful – in particular, the demonisation of anything that can be alluded to as ‘privatisation’. It’s all too easy to use examples, such as Carillion’s untimely collapse, as having a direct correlation to the ‘evils’ of the private sector. It’s also widely inaccurate to suggest that UK healthcare will become more aligned to the dysfunctional US healthcare system if the private sector becomes more involved with overall healthcare delivery in this country.
The reality is quite different. If we want to keep healthcare free at the point of delivery, the private sector has to take more of the burden. This may be achieved by reducing prices – perhaps insurers can be more creative with their policies and offer low-cost options for the self-employed or those not covered by corporate schemes. The private hospital groups can perhaps also be more creative with their pricing structure and offer better deals for those who self-insure and pay for their own treatment.
Perhaps most importantly of all, there needs to be attitudinal change. Improving the image of the sector in the minds of the public can be achieved if we focus on communicating the benefits of a partnership between the NHS and private groups and embrace the existing skills and resources available. The public have genuine choice when it comes to selecting their treatment options and more should be done to explain this without there being any sense of negativity.
By taking advantage of what the private sector has to offer, individuals can receive timely treatment, better outcomes and importantly, help to save the NHS for those who need it most.