Earlier today, Vox Political reported that Labour’s Lord Carter had claimed some hip operations were “costing more than double the amount that they should, with some expensive replacements not lasting as long as cheaper ones”.
A quick stroll through the Internet has now turned up an example of the kind of operation it is likely he meant – and, don’t be surprised, it’s by a private healthcare company.
The report is a few years old (from 2012) but there’s no reason to believe standards have improved at all. Here’s what the Daily Mail had to say about one person’s experience:
Mrs Collett had been sent to the Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth, under a contract agreed between the NHS and Netcare, a South African health company.
When she came round from the surgery, she was shocked to be told she’d suffered a third-degree burn to her foot, which was scorched almost to the bone.
But worse was to come. She was also in constant pain from her hip replacement.
Within two months, it dislocated twice.
Mrs Collett says a GP told her the prosthesis in her leg was too short and was also loose because insufficient cement had been used to fix it.
The Mail reckoned 17 per cent of hip replacements were being carried out privately in 2012. It seems doubtful that this number has fallen in the years since.
Private healthcare is now monitored by the Care Quality Commission – but that organisation has itself come under fire for failings of its own.
A report by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, dated August 2014, states very clearly that the NHS is gambling with patients’ health every time it passes them on to the private sector:
The same requirements to report incidents do not apply to private providers as they do to the NHS, which in itself makes it hard to monitor how safe or otherwise private services are. Information about clinical negligence claims against private providers are not publicly available, as they are in the NHS.
Patients themselves have fewer rights in the private sector. Whilst there is a general requirement to operate a complaints procedure, unlike the NHS complaints procedure, those used by private providers afford no statutory rights to the complainant and there is no recourse to the Health Service Ombudsman in the case of private care. There is no statutory requirement to provide for independent advice and support with complaints which is the case with the NHS. Consequently it is much harder to hold a private provider to account.
Even taking legal action for clinical negligence against a private provider is more problematic than with the NHS, where everything is overseen by the NHS Litigation Authority. A claimant against a private provider can be faced with complications over whether it is the hospital or the individual surgeon or sub-contractor who is liable.
All too often, in addition to the patient who is harmed through no fault of their own, it is the NHS which ends up picking up the pieces (and the tab) when things go wrong in private healthcare.
Worse still, the Conservative Government is clearly complicit in this failure of care:
Bizarrely, as recently as  the Government passed the Care Act, which exempted providers of privately funded care from the new criminal offence for providing false or misleading information to the regulators. As if this could only happen in a publicly run service.
So, if you’re an NHS patient sent to a private hospital for a hip replacement, you could come out in worse condition than you went in, with very little ability to gain financial redress or even to have the mistake corrected – and this is the way the government wants it.
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