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Report Highlights Patient Safety Risks in Private Hospitals

Patients undergoing operations in private hospitals may be put at risk from inadequate equipment, lack of intensive care beds, unsafe staffing arrangements, and poor medical record-keeping, according to a new report from the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI).

The report reveals that over 800 people have died unexpectedly in private hospitals in England during the last four years. Unlike in the NHS, private hospitals are not required to make data on hospital deaths publicly available, which can make it difficult for the public to understand how safe these hospitals are.

The CHPI report is the first to bring together what is known about patient safety in private hospitals in England. It found that:

  • Between October 2010 and April 2014 802 patients died unexpectedly in private hospitals, and there were 921 serious injuries.
  • The majority of private hospitals have no intensive care beds, some have no dedicated resuscitation teams, and surgeons and anaesthetists usually work in isolation – without assistant surgeons and anaesthetists in training present.
  • Although the private hospital sector now gets over a quarter of its income from treating NHS-funded patients, there is significantly less information available to patients about the performance of private hospitals than about the NHS.
  • It is not possible to establish whether all private hospitals providing NHS care are fulfilling their legal obligation to publish Quality Accounts letting the public know how they are performing.

The report also confirms that the NHS serves as a ‘safety net’ for the private sector. Thousands of people are regularly transferred to NHS hospitals following treatment in private hospitals, with over 2,600 emergency NHS admissions from the private sector in 2012-13.

“The report highlights some sobering examples of what can happen to patients without the right staffing, equipment and facilities,” commented report co-author Professor Brian Toft.

“When patients choose to have an operation in a private hospital they may be unaware of the difference in terms of risk between a big NHS hospital with surgical teams and intensive care beds and a private hospital with neither,” he added. “Consent forms should make clear to patients the inherent potential risks in the way these facilities are run.”

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