Private hospitals can only be 'stop gap' solution to waiting crisis, says RCGP Northern Ireland

Contracting private sector providers to ease hospital waiting times should only be used as a 'stop gap' measure, RCGP Northern Ireland has said.

Private hospital: RCGP NI urges use only as stop-gap measure (Photo: iStock)
Private hospital: RCGP NI urges use only as stop-gap measure (Photo: iStock)

The college was responding to calls for Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board to commission private providers to ease long waits for hospital treatment. More than 20% of the population of Northern Ireland is on a hospital waiting list.

The chief executive of a large private hospital that lost a contract with the board last year told the BBC the private sector would give value for money and help to ease waiting times.

The backlog had got so bad, said chief executive of Kingsbridge, Mark Regan, that patients were now borrowing money in desperation to pay for their elderly relatives’ care.

After the government ended a contract with Kingsbridge in September 2014, Northern Ireland became the only UK region not making use of the private sector.

NHS waiting times

The health board has said its finances are so bad it cannot afford to pay either private or health service providers to resolve the backlog.

RCGP Northern Ireland chairman Dr John O’Kelly said the rise in waiting times were ‘deeply worrying’.

‘As a GP, I regularly encounter patients who spend months waiting on much needed operations and can understand the discomfort and distress that this can cause to patients and their families,' he said.

‘The RCGP NI would only view the use of the private sector as a stop-gap measure.

‘Patients should be allowed choice in where and how they are treated. Issues of governance, poor communication and the appropriateness of certain categories of patients being seen in the private sector would need to be addressed.'

NHS-led services

Dr O’Kelly added: ‘RCGP NI supports an NHS-led health service. We recognise the difficulties that the health service is facing at present.’

BMA Northern Ireland chairman Dr John D Woods told the BBC the doctors’ union was ‘strongly opposed’ to using private hospitals. 

‘Paying private companies is a knee-jerk reaction,’ he said ‘Yes, it may help those on a current waiting list, but it does not provide a long-term answer for the health service.

‘When Northern Ireland uses the independent sector - eventually - in the long term, it just leads to long waiting lists.’

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