Back in the scary but innocent days of March 2020 the Government and NHS sought to maximise hospital capacity. This was surely the right thing to do, given the uncertainty of the pandemic, but many of its efforts backfired badly.
First, NHS Hospitals decanted bed-blockers without testing them for SARS-CoV-2. Some were infected, igniting lethal nursing-home outbreaks. Secondly, the Government commissioned Nightingale Hospitals to great fanfare. Unfortunately, as it should have perceived beforehand and soon discovered, there weren’t enough doctors and nurses to staff these facilities. The Nightingales quietly closed over the subsequent months, having treated derisory numbers of patients. Some treated no one at all. Half a billion of taxpayers’ money went pop. Third, the Government spent £2 billion to buy-up capacity at private hospitals, which did have staff, beds and expertise. The BMJ, whose article is worth reading in full, has managed – after multiple FOI requests – to analyse how this turned out, and it isn’t pretty.
In the BMJ’s words:
The major deal bought the entire capacity of 200 private hospitals, including 8,000 private beds, 1,200 ventilators, 700 doctors and 10,000 nurses, to help the NHS care for patients with COVID-19, with cancer, or needing urgent operations…
The national contract block booked beds, equipment, and staff… It allowed NHS teams to take over whole departments of private hospitals if necessary. NHS England agreed to pay for the bulk of the hospitals’ operating costs, including staff, consumables, rent, capital expenditure, building modifications and infrastructure.
According to the BMJ, the March 2020 plan was for this extra capacity to be used for Covid patients, but this changed in May 2020, with the independent sector told to concentrate upon elective patients whose surgery had been delayed whilst the NHS concentrated upon Covid. I believe that this was true of provincial England but that, from the start, the London plan was that the NHS would handle Covid whilst contracted private sites remained ‘Covid clear’ and undertook medical and surgical treatments that would otherwise be delayed.