When I started work in the NHS in 2003, I was surprised at the number of private patients who were being treated on the children’s ward I was working on.
I knew that the NHS hospital had private wards and had assumed that private patients would be treated there and that I, as an NHS nurse, would not be looking after them. In fact private patients literally queue-jumped to use the same hospital facilities and be treated by the same staff as NHS patients. The result of this is that NHS patients had to wait longer for care. Not only this but they were often prioritised for private rooms, not on the basis of need or infection control — the purpose of the rooms — but because they demanded it as a right. It was a two-tier health service in operation.
A lot has been made of the opening up in Lansley’s Bill of health service contracting to the private sector. Just as dangerous is the lifting of the cap on private patients in the NHS. If this goes ahead NHS waiting lists will go up and people will be encouraged to take the private route to obtain quicker treatment. The private treatment obtained is by NHS doctors in an NHS hospital! Private hospitals often cannot provide the same standards — just nicer wards.
There is a concerted effort by the Tory government to make the NHS like US Medicare: a safety net with minimum standards of care while those who can afford to obtain higher quality care through insurance or top-up payments.
Doctors should not be able to prioritise treatment of private patients in outside practice or in the NHS. We need one properly funded, state-of-the-art health service for all!