Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Empty Beds, Locked Ward. Absurd Price of Success

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Empty Beds, Locked Ward. Absurd Price of Success

Article excerpt

Byline: REBECCA SMITH

THE beds are empty, the lights are off and the doors padlocked. This is the scene on ward three at Ravenscourt Park hospital - one of London's flagship orthopaedic centres.

The unit has some of the finest facilities in the country for hip and knee operations - but NHS red tape means doctors cannot find enough patients, even though there are thousands of people waiting for surgery.

Ravenscourt is caught in a "Catch 22" situation which is being made worse by the Government's latest reforms.

People in west London cannot be sent to the unit because their local Primary Care Trust (PCT) which has to pay for the operations has run out of money.

In theory, the unit could fill its beds with NHS patients from around the country.

But instead of being sent to Ravenscourt, patients are being sent in their thousands for operations at private hospitals, because PCTs are being encouraged to turn to the private sector as part of the Department of Health's drive to get waiting lists down.

Ravenscourt Park managers are so anxious to fill operating theatres, they are contacting hospitals around the country to plead with them to send their patients.

The absurdity of the situation is this: Ravenscourt has space for an extra 5,000 patients this year, yet since May 9,000 people across the country have been sent private for hip and knee operations paid for by the NHS.

Critics say this means the NHS in effect pays twice - once for the overheads at the empty unit at Ravenscourt Park and again for the private care.

The hospital faces a [pounds sterling]9 million debt while the Department of Health is entering into multimillion-pound contracts with private firms to treat NHS patients. Health Secretary John Reid says more private treatment centres are needed to cut waiting times for surgery, especially in orthopaedics where traditionally patients have been forced to wait months or years for operations. …

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