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NHS fuels future private health

NHS patients may provide more of the bread and butter business for private healthcare providers in the future

If the NHS achieves its goal of cutting waiting times by 2008, private hospitals could be treating 150,000 fewer private patients a year by 2010, according to a new study for the Healthcare Commission. This is because, as NHS waiting times fall over the five-year period, the number of private patients willing to pay for treatment is expected to drop by 30 per cent. The number of people taking out private medical insurance is also due to drop by 15 per cent.

However, it is estimated that private hospitals will be treating approximately 640,000 NHS patients each year by 2010 - a rise of almost 500,000 compared with today's figures - as NHS patients are given more choice about where they receive non-emergency treatment.

Patients will be offered a choice of where they want to be treated from the end of this year. Many are expected to opt for treatment in private hospitals as currently they have lower rates of infection than those in the public sector.

Change of plan

The enormous changes in healthcare, including moves to give patients a choice of where they are treated, new technology and an increase in the number of services being provided outside the traditional hospital environment, have resulted in a rethink about private finance initiatives (PFI).

Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt, has hinted that there will be far fewer big hospitals built under PFI, while Bob Ricketts, head of capacity planning at the Department of Health, said that the NHS needs more ìcheap and cheerfulî buildings with a life span of five to 10 years, not unwanted ìmonumentsî on a 30-year PFI contract.

Hewitt said that although PFI has provided a ìonce-in-a-lifetime chance to modernise the fabric of our hospitalsÖ we are all becoming increasingly aware of the enormous changes in healthcare and the opportunities being created by new technologyî.

While she admitted that acute services could only be offered at large hospitals, Hewitt said that quite a lot of diagnostics could be carried out in the primary care sector.

The NHS has opened 50 schemes for PFI hospitals and another 80 are in the pipeline. However, the cost of negotiating PFI contracts mean that the system is uneconomical for smaller projects. The Treasury has almost completely ruled out PFI for projects with a cost of less than £20m.

30th September 2008

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