Private hospitals in Lancashire should be temporarily taken over by the NHS to help battle the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Labour opposition group on Lancashire County Council.
Media reports over the weekend suggested that such a move was one of several being considered by the government nationwide as part of a “wartime-style” mobilisation of the country’s resources to tackle the crisis.
But deputy Labour group leader John Fillis said that plans needed to be made now, so that Lancashire was ready with the extra capacity it may need. He added that while private providers should be “compensated accordingly”, the usual detailed contract negotiations with the sector to secure their services would not be practical.
“Of course the hospitals must be paid - the state could even cover the costs of their staff and equipment. But we don’t want to get into a situation where the NHS has agreed to pay for X number of rubber gloves and because we use Y number, we end up paying £100 a pair.
“There are bars and restaurants closing all over Europe, many of which may go under as a result - and yet they are complying because it is in the national interest. So why should the private healthcare sector be any different?
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they were already offering to help - because if we all work together for the greater good, then the private hospitals will benefit as much as anybody,” County Cllr Fillis said.
The privately-run Greater Lancashire Hospital in Ribbleton already works under contract with the NHS – providing outpatient appointments, day case procedures and diagnostic testing. But with no inpatient beds at the facility, the boss of Preston-based parent company Bespoke Healthcare said his organisation’s best way of helping at this stage might be to relieve other pressures on the health service.
Speaking exclusively to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Gwam Rajiah revealed that he had written to the trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital to say: “We’re here.”
“We’ve not been instructed by the NHS to offer any support as yet, but a number of hospitals are trying to reduce their outpatient appointments – so we can help provide capacity for that and diagnostics.
“It might help to reduce the number of people you have waiting in crowded areas, because we have the space to split them up into smaller groups.
“Our staff – including the doctors – have said they will be willing to chip in and work evenings and weekends,” Mr. Rajiah added.
The Labour group will be putting forward a motion at the next full meeting of Lancashire County Council calling for the requisitioning of private hospitals under emergency legislation – but that is not due to take place until May.
Some of the biggest players in private healthcare operate facilities in Lancashire, including Fulwood Hall and Euxton Hall hospitals, run by BMI Healthcare, and Spire Healthcare’s Fylde Coast Hospital.
County Cllr Fillis said that it had been “heartwarming” to see so many Lancashire people volunteering to help in the event that the outbreak worsens, but warned that measures must be taken to keep them - and social care staff - safe.
It was reported over the weekend that all over-70s may be told to quarantine themselves for four months.
“We will have the staff to look after the people we already [care for] - but what about the people we don’t know about?
“We need to ensure that everybody knows how to prevent cross-infection and that we have the right equipment in place,” County Cllr Fillis said.
He added that, as a former nurse with 35 years’ experience, he would be ready to answer the call to go back to work - if it ever comes.
“I’ve heard nothing so far, but I’d be more than happy to do it even if I had to self-isolate from family and friends.
“It usually takes six weeks to complete the course to re-register as a nurse, but they would have to do it in a more condensed period of time in this situation.”