Plymouth hospital in 'pioneering' deal with private health company
A row has broken out over a deal which will see NHS surgeons carrying out operations in a private hospital.
It covers all non-urgent orthopaedic surgery at Derriford Hospital, part of University Hospitals Plymouth Trust.
A spokesperson for the trust said it was an "innovative" and "pioneering" partnership which would reduce waiting times for patients.
But Labour said it looked like "front door privatisation."
The deal, over a period of a year-and-a-half and involving about 200 cases a month, is said to be the first of its kind between an NHS trust and a private provider.
NHS patients are already able to ask to have an operation at a private hospital and in the past there have been initiatives to reduce NHS waiting lists by paying independent providers to carry out operations.
But this deal will involve NHS consultants and other staff in Plymouth carrying out orthopaedic surgery in a local hospital, Peninsula Treatment Centre, which is run by the private group Care UK.
The trust argues that the move will reduce waiting times for less urgent operations by freeing up operating theatre capacity and virtually eliminate waits of more than a year.
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Ann James, chief executive of University Hospitals Plymouth, said: "Winter is always a challenging time for the NHS and we are constantly looking at innovative ways to address patient demand.
"Using a trusted independent health provider to create additional capacity at times of high demand ensures that patients are not kept waiting longer than they have to, often in pain.
"With the existing treatment centre less than a mile away, Care UK is uniquely placed to provide the service and the only difference that patients should really notice is that they are now being seen more quickly."
Last winter, thousands of routine operations were cancelled across the NHS as hospitals were urged to free up beds and theatre capacity for emergency cases.
The Plymouth Trust acknowledges that the new arrangement with Care UK is part of its preparations for the coming winter.
Last time, the hospital had to temporarily convert a planned orthopaedic ward to try to cope with the increase in medical patients.
But Labour's Jon Ashworth said: "This is an unprecedented move that looks like a front door privatisation.
"The fact this hospital feels it has no option but to turn to private sector providers to try to bring waiting lists down and to free up space for winter, blows apart Tory claims that austerity has ended."
Two Plymouth MPs have clashed over the announcement.
Labour's Luke Pollard tweeted: "Fat cat private healthcare companies should not be running the NHS and this decision shows just how severe the NHS crisis is locally.
"I will fight privatisation of our NHS all the way."
But the Conservative Johnny Mercer told the Plymouth Live news website: "One day local Labour politician wannabes will leave their ideology at the door and actually try and deliver something that improves the lives of Plymothians across our city.
"The move simply means patients receive a better level of service."