NHS England’s boss told Sajid Javid the £90million a month deal to rope in private hospitals if Covid spiralled out of control could waste taxpayer money, it emerged today.
The three-month contract sees private healthcare staff and facilities put on standby to help, should Omicron cause unsustainable levels of hospital admissions or staff absences.
In a letter to the Health Secretary three days before the contract was made public, Amanda Pritchard warned it might not be ‘value for money’.
deal to use private beds and staff when necessary would cost far more than increasing NHS capacity.
She warned that persistent NHS staffing issues meant it was unlikely the extra 4,000 private beds could even be manned.
The deal will cost the Department of Health a minimum of between £75million and £90million a month for three months. And the costs could rise as high as £175million a month based on data from previous deals with independent hospitals, she said.
But the Health Secretary pushed ahead with the deal, announcing on Monday it would provide ‘additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need’.
Under the plan, NHS trusts will be able to send a wide range of patients — including some with cancer — to nearby private wards if they cannot deliver the care.
Prviate hospitals will be kept on standby with no guarantees the beds will be used.
But critics fear the Government will repeat its mistakes of the first wave, when ministers are thought to have paid between £2billion and £5billion for private capacity up to March 2021.
They spent a further £530million on Nightingale hospitals that were barely used over the last two years.
The NHS is in the depths of a winter crisis, with Omicron fuelling staff absences and causing Covid admissions to rise.
Amanda Pritchard (left), chief executive of the health service in England, warned Sajid Javid (right) his £90million per month deal with the private sector could waste taxpayer money, it emerged today
Quizzed over Ms Pritchard’s letter by MPs today, the chief civil servant at he Department of Health Sir Chris Godfrey claimed it was not the NHS chief’s job to look into the wider impacts on society the move would have
Sajid Javid tells NHS to send cancer patients to private hospitals to stop further treatment delays
The NHS has been told to send cancer patients to private hospitals to prevent their treatment being delayed further by the pandemic.
The Health Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly told the NHS at the weekend that it needed to ‘urgently secure’ private hospital beds and equipment to increase capacity amid a rising number of trusts experiencing debilitating staff shortages due to Covid cases.
It is hoped that these plans will avoid future restrictions being imposed in England, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Additional private beds will be paid for by the NHS and include the provision of some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally provided by the private sector under existing arrangements.
Some beds will also be made available in case Covid patients overwhelm NHS trusts leaving them unable to provide urgent care.
‘We are going to do everything we can to avoid more restrictions,’ a Whitehall source told the paper.
‘Our lines of defence through vaccines, testing and antivirals are crucial and holding up but we are also boosting NHS capacity as much as we can.
‘Sajid wants the NHS to make use of the independent sector if needed. The aim is to ensure as much capacity as possible is available to help the NHS get through the Omicron wave.’
In the letter, Ms Pritchard said: ‘In the event that any system requires surge arrangements to be put in place, the cost recovery arrangements then applicable will be significantly more expensive at around £175 million a month based on data from 2020 arrangements.
‘On a per bed basis this is significantly more expensive than the equivalent cost of an NHS site with much less certainty on the potential staffed capacity.
‘There are also logistical challenges that need to be surmounted to facilitate the transfer and care of patients between NHS systems and around 150 sites across England.
‘There is therefore an additional risk on the ability to maximise the use of effective capacity.’
She highlighted how it was her role as the boss of NHS to look into how much deals with private firms would be costing the health service.
Under the deal, independent providers have asked for a guaranteed minimum level of NHS income over the three months.
And the NHS will have to pay for affected facilities and staff on a not-for profit cost recovery basis if a surge is activated.
But quizzed over Ms Pritchard’s letter by MPs today, the chief civil servant at he Department of Health Sir Chris Godfrey claimed it was not the NHS chief’s job to look into the wider impacts on society the move would have.
Sir Chris said: ‘Amanda Pritchard has considered the strictures of managing public money and concluded that in her judgement this investment does not meet [those].
‘[Mr Javid] has concluded that … the wider public interest beyond the question of managing public money is best served by it happening.
‘The wider reason he has done that is because, as we know, the consequences of Covid go far beyond the NHS.
‘And when you are in a position that the NHS is at risk from Covid, the consequences for the wider economy, society and all the wider implications the committee is well aware of — Amanda Pritchard is not in a position to take account of.’
He added: ‘One of the reason we protect NHS services is because the alternatives are restrictions on society.
‘The secretary state is taking a wider view of society.’