Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Private healthcare sector's performance no better than NHS.
Paying for private medical treatment does not guarantee a safer or better quality of care than using the NHS, the health inspectorate said yesterday in its first analysis of the performance
of the independent sector. The Healthcare commission found only 50% of the private hospitals and clinics in England and Wales met all the required minimum standards when they were inspected in the 2005-06 period, compared with 49% of NHS trusts. About 15% of the independent providers failed on at least three tests of quality and safety. NHS trusts had to comply with more standards and their comparable failure rate was 19%.The most frequent lapses in both sectors included lack of systematic monitoring of treatment provided, poor standards of staff training and inadequate procedures to minimise risk of infection. Anna Walker, the commission's chief executive, said standards in the independent sector were
"pretty much the same" as in the NHS. It was hard to make direct comparisons and the commission wanted a change in the law to put all establishments on the same footing. But
it was fair to say private and voluntary hospitals were no better or worse than the NHS. Ms Walker said the private sector has been inspected against the standards since 2000 and might have been expected to secure a better pass rate than the NHS, where the standards were introduced for the first time this year. About 2,000 independent hospitals and clinics in
England and Wales charged about £10.3bn in 2005-06 for services ranging from acute
surgery to tooth cleaning and tattoo removal - about 14% of total spending on health. In most cases the bill was paid by insurers or by patients, but the total also included NHS patients who had operations at independent centres funded by the taxpayer. The commission found one
Bupa hospital with inadequate infection control and two where inspectors were not satisfied about the recruitment and training of staff. The British arm of the Swedish hospital chain
Capio did not meet the infection control standard at two hospitals, the recruitment standard
at three and did not adequately monitor quality of treatment at four. Capio has a network
of 21 acute hospitals in England and is one of the leading suppliers of services to NHS
patients. The commission said it was concerned about mental health services in the
independent sector, where 35% of establishments failed three or more of the 32 standards
and 12% failed seven or more.