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Safety regimes of private healthcare providers called into question again

Concerns about the safety regimes in the private healthcare sector have come to the fore in recent months with fears raised about both the standard of care and the lack of information on serious incidents.

In August this year think tank the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI) released a report which found that it was not possible to assess properly the safety of private hospitals as they are not required to undertake the same level of reporting as NHS hospitals.

Meanwhile just last week a confidential report leaked to the Independent showed that dozens of cataracts patients were left in severe pain due to botched surgery carried out by private providers.

This is a serious issue, not least because of the number of patients who are now being referred by the NHS for operations that are carried out by private providers is growing. A quarter of private hospital admissions are for now for NHS funded operations and one in 10 NHS cataracts patients now has their surgery from a private provider.

Patient safety is something that both private and NHS hospitals must work very hard to maintain and there is the potential for avoidable injuries to be caused in both sectors. As a partner in the JMW medical negligence team I have helped patients and families affected by some quite appalling NHS errors.

However, when something does go badly wrong within the NHS there are systems in place to investigate and report on those failures. Although sometimes these systems don’t work as well as they might, nevertheless they are much tighter than those in private hospitals, according to CHPI. But why should there be such disparity when private providers have patient lives in their hands no less than the doctors and nurses who work in the NHS?

In the cataracts surgery debacle two patients are said to have suffered burns, six lost pigment in their irises and four were left with microscopic shards of metal in their eyes after the private surgery, contracted out by an NHS hospital in Somerset. How can lessons be learned from this and the safety of further patients protected if the provider is not subject to stringent investigation and reporting requirements?

It could be time for serious reform of the rules governing private providers so that as the NHS’ reliance on them increases their safety regime improves.




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