NHS England has announced a new deal that will enable hospitals to quickly activate surge capacity in the independent sector as part of the national COVID-19 response.
A three-month agreement with multiple independent healthcare organisations will see their staff and facilities put on standby to support the NHS should the Omicron variant lead to unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences.
The deal, which has been struck under direction from the Secretary of State Sajid Javid, comes on top of the NHS creating additional capacity within its own hospitals. Hospitals have been asked to identify areas such as gyms and education centres to create ‘super surge’ wards on top of their usual surge capacity. Nightingale hubs are also being created in the grounds of some hospitals as part of the drive to create up to 4,000 ‘super surge’ beds.
The new deal will allow NHS Trusts to send a wider range of patients to the independent sector for treatment including those requiring some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing arrangements.
The independent sector surge capacity would only be triggered if Covid patients requiring treatment were to threaten the NHS’s ability to provide urgent care. NHS England Chief Operating Officer and Covid Incident Director Sir David Sloman confirms: “Just like the Nightingale hubs being created across the country, we hope never to need their support but it will be there if needed.”
Independent sector capacity has been used extensively throughout the pandemic and currently overall use is at almost 115% of pre-pandemic levels, including over 470,000 day cases, almost 2,800,000 surgical procedures and over 500,000 diagnostic tests in the last year.
The new deal with these independent sector organisations comes into effect from today (January 10) and will run until the end of March, at which point local arrangements with those providers will resume.
If NHS Trusts or systems need to trigger the surge element of the new deal, routine services at an independent sector site will be suspended to make facilities and staff available to the health service.
If the surge capacity were to be used the NHS would seek to return to current arrangements, allowing independent sector hospitals to resume usual activities including treating NHS patients, as soon as possible.
NHS England has struck the deal with the following independent sector health providers:
• Practice Plus Group
• Spire Healthcare
• Nuffield Health
• Circle Health Group
• Ramsay Health Care UK
• Healthcare Management Trust
• One Healthcare
• Horder Healthcare
• Aspen Healthcare
• KIMS Hospital