Major NHS trust sparks anger with cash-hungry plan to charge patients for private treatment on-site: Critics warn ‘two-tier’ scheme could lead to ‘queue-jumping’ at hospital with a 90,000-strong waiting list

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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One of the country’s busiest NHS trusts has sparked alarm after unveiling plans to rake in more cash from private patients.

With the goal of creating an ‘income generation source’, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT) wants to rent out its facilities to a private provider to treat patients willing to pay.

Trust bosses insisted the controversial plan would allow money ‘to be reinvested in NHS staff, care and services’, MailOnline can reveal. 

But campaigners, union chiefs, and MPs have attacked the proposal, warning that it could lead to a ‘two-tier’ health service and worsen existing backlogs faced by NHS patients.

Dr John Puntis, co-chair of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, said: ‘Patients without the funds to afford private treatment (the vast majority) will be particularly aggrieved by what they perceive as queue jumping.’

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT) wants to rent out its facilities to a private provider to treat patients willing to pay

The retired consultant paediatrician warned that poorer patients will be faced with difficult decisions regarding ‘their financial priorities’.

On the other hand, Dr Puntis argued patients able to afford private treatment on an NHS site will worry about ‘undermining NHS services by creating a two tier system’.

He also warned that Leeds Teaching Hospitals’ proposals had the potential to make waiting lists at the Trust even longer.

Dr Puntis told MailOnline: ‘Consultants have to agree job plans and if they decide to spend more time on private work they do less in the public sector, in which waiting lists then get longer.

‘There is only one pool of staff and at present it is already smaller than it should be. 

‘A private unit will also have to employ a range of non-medical staff and all of these will have been trained in the NHS.

Dr Puntis also warned the move could create conflicts of interest among NHS staff.

He said: ‘NHS patients will see doctors who are also working sessions for a private company and deriving some of their income from this, who will say “if you want fast treatment you can pay privately”.’

NHS statistics show more than 92,000 patients were waiting to begin treatment at Leeds Teaching Hospitals as of the end of November.

It means that, out of 150-plus trusts in England, Leeds has the 15th biggest backlog.

Additionally, 38 per cent of patients stuck in the queue were waiting longer than 18 weeks for their treatment plan to begin.

NHS standards state that 92 per cent of patients should be seen within 18 weeks of referral.

The notice was published by LTHT on a Government tender website on January 16.

It lists three objectives for the project.

First is to ‘offer patients the opportunity to receive private healthcare on an LTHT site’, and the second to ‘support LTHT clinical teams who provide private healthcare to do so on an LTHT site’.

The final objective is to ‘create an income generation source which will allow money to be reinvested in NHS staff, care and services.’

It continues that LTHT wants to ‘engage’ with private hospital operators who may be interested in a ‘collaboration’ at some or all of its sites. 

The notice also reads: ‘The Trust’s research suggests a strong market opportunity for a private patient service offering specialist care at St James’ University Hospital site (SJUH).’

SJUH is home to the Leeds Cancer Centre — one of the largest providers of cancer care in the UK.

Longstanding delays to cancer care one of the most pressing concerns in the NHS since the country emerged from the Covid pandemic.

Official NHS data for November show only 71.9 per cent of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days. The target is 75 per cent.

Just 90.1 per cent waited a month or less for their first cancer treatment to begin after a decision to proceed with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The target is 96 per cent but this has never been met.

Fewer than two-thirds (65.2 per cent) of patients started their first cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral. 

NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be treated within this timeframe. But again, this target has never been met. 

LTHT, which boasts of its £1.4billion taxpayer funded budget, said exploratory meetings with interested parties will be held ‘as soon as practicable’ and as soon as March 2024.

UNISON said it understood the private provider would offer care at ‘all levels’ — not just special procedures.

UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser Gary Cleaver said: ‘The NHS exists to ensure quality healthcare can be provided to whoever needs it. It does not exist to make money.

‘These plans are financially driven, they are not about best meeting the needs of the people of Leeds. 

‘The proposals have the potential to leave the poorest people in the city in an even worse position.

‘The trust is in a difficult position after years of the health service being starved of government funding, but it must reconsider these proposals.’

Daisy Cooper MP, Lib Dem health spokesperson, said the plan was symptomatic of the ‘Government’s neglect of our NHS’. 

She said: ‘Millions are waiting in pain and are looking to the Government to get a grip of this crisis. 

‘People shouldn’t be forced to fork out their own money to get the urgent care they need.’

An LTHT spokesperson defended the notice, claiming it would benefit both the trust and the local community. 

They said: ‘It’s really important to us that any potential partnership will not in any way impede our ability to provide NHS care.

‘Many trusts of a similar size already do this and it can be a valid and vital way to support and provide new investment in NHS services. 

‘In addition, it would create new jobs, opportunities and economic benefit for Leeds and the region.’

However, the spokesperson added the Trust was only currently ‘exploring the market’ and ‘is not committing to anything’.  

The trust already treats some private patients at its sites.

On its website it boasts how a major benefit of having a private op at the trust is if things go wrong during a procedure, taxpayer-funded specialist and emergency care is available directly there, unlike some private hospitals.

LTHT didn’t respond to MailOnline’s request for how much money from its private patient business had previously been reinvested in NHS staff, care and services.

The furore over LTHT’s private expansion comes after it emerged the NHS cancelled cancer and hip operations during the Covid pandemic while continuing to perform breast enlargements and nose jobs for private patients.

NHS trusts are allowed to supplement their usual taxpayer-funded income by selling private services on the side.

Guidelines say they should ‘ideally’ provide private treatment in a separate building – but it could be in a different area of the hospital or ‘after NHS hours’.

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