COVID-19: Private hospitals to help NHS cope with Omicron strain in new deal

NHS hospitals will be able to use spare capacity in the private sector if Omicron cases cause unsustainable pressure on services.

Private facilities and staff will be on standby as part of a new three-month deal that has been agreed for an undisclosed sum.

NHS England said patients who can be referred include some of those waiting for cancer operations.

The health service has also been asked to look at using gyms and education centres to create “super surge” wards.

Nightingale hubs have already been created in some hospital grounds in an attempt to find as many at 4,000 more beds.

“This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our health care services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need from our world-leading NHS, whenever they need it,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

More than 470,000 NHS day cases, around 2.8 million surgical procedures and in excess of 500,000 tests have been carried out in the private sector in the last year, according to NHS England.

But the Health Service Journal said about two-thirds of the private sector capacity purchased by the NHS was unused between June and the end of September 2020.

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NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “The NHS is working beyond full stretch, so it makes sense, when required, to draw on additional capacity from the independent sector.

“However, the supply of staff is finite, and it is important that this deal does not exacerbate existing severe staffing pressures for trusts.

“It should be seen alongside other steps to prepare for the impact of Omicron at a time when the NHS is also dealing with so many other pressures.

“The priority for trusts is to minimise delays and maintain the quality of care for NHS patients.

“This has required increased collaboration and support with partners including the independent sector, exactly as we saw earlier in the pandemic.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “This deal – on top of the NHS building extra capacity and assistance we have seen from the military – means there is some further support if it is necessary over the coming months.

“These emergency measures will not be a silver bullet, and they should not mask the longer term issues facing the NHS, such as huge staff vacancies.”

The agreement runs until 22 March and includes the following providers: Practice Plus Group, Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health, Circle Health Group, Ramsay Health Care UK, Healthcare Management Trust, One Healthcare, Horder Healthcare, Aspen Healthcare and KIMS Hospital.

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