NHS cashes in on private payers as waiting lists soar
 (The Guardian: 18 December 2016)

Income received by NHS hospital trusts from private patients has risen by 23% in the last four years, as waiting lists for non-paying patients have soared.

Under the government’s reforms, hospitals have been given the right to raise 49% of their funds through non-NHS work, often from patients seeking to avoid waiting for surgery. Prior to this, there had been a 2% cap on income that could be raised from private patients.

Ministers revealed in parliament that in 2015-16, hospitals in England received £558m from patients choosing to pay private – up from £454m four years earlier. The figures come as the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment has increased by 54% during the same period. Of those treated in October, more than 360,000 patients had been waiting for 18 weeks or more for treatment, according to the latest data from NHS England, compared to 234,030 in October 2011.

The shadow health minister, Justin Madders, said: “This government is presiding over a two-tier system, where the wealthiest in society can pay to jump the queue. The Tories’ disastrous top-down reorganisation has allowed hospitals to fill up to half of their beds with private patients while leaving NHS patients waiting longer on ever-growing waiting lists.

“The NHS is stretched to breaking point at the moment, so for it to be seeing more and more private patients is an unforgivable position to be in. Access to healthcare should be based on a patient’s needs, not ability to pay for treatment, and this government needs to act in the interests of all patients, not just those who can stump up cash for quick treatment.”...read more


Hospitals in England told to put operations on hold to free up beds (The Guardian: 16 December 2016)

in England have been advised to halt elective surgery over Christmas to ensure enough beds are free for patients who need emergency treatment at the end of the year.

In a sign of the intense pressures on NHS resources over the winter months, the regulator NHS Improvement said all hospitals should make more beds available between now and mid-January.

Jim Mackey, the chief executive of NHS Improvement, said the focus needed to be on emergency patients at what he called a critical time for the health service. Many hospitals take steps to wind down the number of operations they perform over the Christmas period, but a letter obtained by the Health Service Journal states that operations may need to be postponed “beyond any current plans”.

“In preparing for managing winter pressures, it is recommended that all providers pace their elective work by introducing elective breaks where trusts cease most in-patient elective activity and focus on treating emergence activity and non-admitted patients.”

Highlighting how much spare capacity is thought to be necessary, hospitals are being advised to reduce their bed occupancy to 85%. The rate currently stands at 95% across NHS England....read more


Sharp rise in 'trolley waits' for hospital beds in England (The Guardian: 7 December 2016)

There has been a sharp rise in “trolley waits” – the length of time people wait for a hospital bed in England after being admitted in an emergency, figures show.

Data analysed by the BBC shows 473,453 patients waited more than four hours between October 2015 and September 2016 – almost a fivefold increase since 2010-11.

The figure represents 11% of the 4.2 million patients admitted over the period. More than 1,400 patients faced delays of more than 12 hours.

In 2010-11, there were 97,559 trolley waits – although NHS England said a small fraction of the rise could be attributed to a change in the way the waits were measured last December.

While the waits are known as trolley waits, the figures include patients waiting in side-rooms, seats in the A&E department and spare cubicles before being admitted to a ward.

The BBC also reported that three-quarters of hospitals in England are reporting bed shortages. Bed occupancy is not meant to exceed 85%, to give staff time to clean beds, keep infections low and ensure patients who need beds can be found them quickly....read more


Revealed: millions paid to social care companies amid crisis in standards (The Guardian: 3 December 2016)

An investigation into the five biggest firms providing homecare services in the UK has found millions of pounds has been paid to some owners amid a crisis in standards of care.

An analysis of published reports from the Care Quality Commission, the care regulator for England, reveals that of the 192 domiciliary care services run by major companies, and inspected over the last two years, 80 were found to “require improvement”, with eight found to be “inadequate” and placed into special measures.

In services rated inadequate, people were found to be unwashed, unfed, unable to get out of bed and left at risk of harm. In some cases, medicine was not given on time or safely and services were described as unsafe and short-staffed. Yet, in the past five years, an analysis of care records and company accounts by Corporate Watch reveals evidence of £36m being paid to owners, with a further £34m in liabilities being stacked up in company accounts.

The revelation follows an announcement last week by the Competition and Markets Authority that it was launching an investigation into the sector, after concerns were raised about unfair practices and high bills....read more


Sick children moved as NHS intensive care units run out of beds (The Guardian: 3 December 2016)

Seriously sick children are having to be transported long distances to receive intensive care this weekend because of a lack of beds in major cities.

In England, 85% of beds available in paediatric intensive care units were full on Friday night. But some units in cities including London and Leicester have been forced to declare themselves as “at capacity”. Planned operations are, in some cases, being delayed to prepare for any possible emergencies, as the system shows signs of serious strain as winter starts to bite.

The director of communications at NHS England, Simon Enright, tweeted: “It is true that the NHS is very busy at the moment – record demand.”

It has long been feared that this winter would expose the frailties of the health service. Last month, the cross-party health select committee, chaired by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston reported widespread concerns among medics at the beginning of December because they had already been struggling to deal with the level of demand.

As part of the NHS’s contingency preparations, every hospital trust was ordered to draw up plans to cope, with new “A&E delivery boards” to be set up. Thousands of non-emergency operations and appointments in the run-up to Christmas have been cancelled to enable doctors to concentrate on discharging patients who can safely be sent home, in an effort to free up beds. Official figures show 6,000 more A&E attendances daily compared with six years ago.

Yet last week it emerged that ambulance response times were declining in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and last night senior doctors said the problems in paediatrics were a sign of systemic problems....read more

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