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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Staurt):
We have considered at length the role that independent hospitals can play in easing demands on NHS hospitals. Our existing policy on commissioning health care services from the private sector allows the NHS to negotiate with the private sector where no local NHS beds are available, and where it is cost-effective. It has also been a long-standing practice in the NHS to use the independents sector where historically there has been little or no provision in the NHS—for example, for mental health secure units and termination of pregnancy.
We do not believe that we need to change our existing policy. Health authorities and NHS trusts are already aware of their powers and of the availability of private provision in their areas. We believe that commissioning from the private sector must be decided at local level, by those who are most familiar with their local circumstances.
That contradicts everything that I have heard takes place not many miles from my home and in a wide area of the south-east. The complaint is—it follows very much the statement attributed to the Secretary of State, who came down like a ton of bricks on anyone who had anything to do with the private sector—that in point of fact—
I am coming to the question. Why does the prevailing evidence suggest that the national health service is prevented from sending its patients to charitably and independently financed hospitals that would help to relieve pressure on the national health service? Someone must have got the truth wrong in the information provided to the Minister.
Circumstances on the ground may not be precisely those rumoured to exist. Some hospitals—such as in Bristol, which had a shortage—negotiate with and use the private sector. This winter, local hospitals negotiated with social services and private providers. It is not true that there is a surplus of private beds that the NHS does not use. It is true that we need to build capacity across NHS. Beds in the private sector that are registered but not supported by staff would not be available for use.