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AIHO responds to Lois Rogers’ article in the Mail Online

Press Coverage - 12 June 2017

AIHO was concerned to read Lois Rogers’ article in the Mail Online on 12 June 2017, “EXPOSED: How the NHS is paying millions to private surgeons for operations that we may not need - and could even HARM us”.

The article presents a number of opinions as factual and the journalist has not included a balancing view that could easily have been obtained from the two trade associations that represent independent hospitals or the organisation mandated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to publish key performance measures on private hospitals and surgeons.

The article suggests that doctors in the independent sector are not subject to the same scrutiny as in the NHS. However the General Medical Council regulates all doctors in the UK and the medical revalidation process applies to all doctors practising in independent hospitals. Furthermore, the heading that ‘Surgeons [in independent hospitals] may be substandard’ is disingenuous as the overwhelming majority of surgeons that operate in independent hospitals are NHS Consultants with an ongoing substantive contract. The failings of a handful of rogue surgeons does not represent the high quality and compassionate care delivered day in and day out by the independent sector as a whole.

Rogers’ states that ‘Private hospitals don’t have to monitor trends [in botched or needless operations] to detect substandard surgeons’ and ‘Private hospitals consider themselves above the law and above the standards followed by the NHS.’ All independent hospitals are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to the same quality and safety standards as the NHS and currently two thirds of acute independent hospitals are rated as 'good' or 'outstanding'. Any safety incidents that occur in the independent sector are reported to the CQC and the sector is actively working with NHS England and other relevant bodies to expand this level of reporting in line with the NHS.

The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) is mandated by the CMA to publish key performance measures on independent hospitals and surgeons. Independent hospitals are required to provide detailed data on every private episode of care. In April 2017 PHIN began publishing 3 performance measures for 149 common procedures at over 250 hospitals. That is just a beginning, but it is of immediate benefit to patients, and is better than anything that has existed before. More will soon follow, including measures of consultant performance in 2018.

Professor Toft is quoted in the article as follows: ‘That patients treated in private hospitals don’t have the same level of protection as patients in the NHS is a big problem.’ However, the General Medical Council which regulates all doctors in the UK requires every individual doctor to have adequate insurance and indemnity arrangements in place for these unfortunate events. In addition independent hospitals will not grant practising privileges to consultants unless they can demonstrate they hold medical indemnity cover.

Finally, the article states that it costs £54 on average to treat an NHS patient at a private hospital, compared with the cost for the same treatment in the NHS. No reference is supplied for this statement and AIHO would question its validity, given that all NHS work undertaken in the independent sector is undertaken at a cost determined by the NHS.

Fiona Booth, Chief Executive of AIHO stated:

"I was disappointed to read such an unbalanced piece of journalism in the Mail Online. Patient safety is at the heart of the care and treatment provided in the independent sector. This article misrepresents the safety of patients in independent hospitals and has the potential to cause unnecessary anxiety to patients."


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