Laurence Vick
Posted on 29 Oct 2013

NHS Privatisation by Default

A hospital is accused of rationing treatment to patients and of ‘privatization by default' after a Weston woman had her eye surgery cancelled three times. She later paid for private treatment to avoid going blind.

In 2010 Mrs Pamella Roberts, aged 76, was advised to see a specialist because of a damaged retina. The waiting time limit imposed by the government for such an appointment is two months.

A series of cancellations led Mrs Roberts to seek treatment privately

An appointment was arranged at Weston General Hospital within the two month time frame, but was cancelled. Two further appointments were also scheduled and then cancelled without explanation.

After a formal complaint by Mrs Roberts, her next appointment was brought forward by three months to August 2011. But at that appointment the consultant told her that she was suffering from glaucoma and that without immediate surgery she would lose her sight.

At that time the waiting list for such surgery at the hospital was three months, so instead Mrs Roberts chose to pay for her treatment privately, at the Bristol Eye Hospital. There she underwent successful surgery within two weeks and her sight is now good.

Weston Hospital's eye services are actually provided by the department at Bristol. So the consultant Mrs Roberts saw privately at Bristol was the same person who had diagnosed her glaucoma, as an NHS patient, at Weston.

The hurdles involved in bringing a legal claim

Mrs Roberts took her concerns over her treatment to Laurence Vick, a medical claims lawyer who specializes in the changes newly introduced by the government into the NHS.

Because Mrs Roberts was never actually operated on by Weston General, Laurence couldn't initiate a claim on her behalf to recover the cost of the private operation.

But he is concerned that her treatment fits into a pattern of how the NHS changes are affecting patients.

'We know there's a difference between 'rationing' and 'prioritising' care, but in a case like this the care was clearly available, and the private process made use of at least some of the same resources that should have been available on the NHS. 

‘The impression given by Weston Area Health Trust is that their first priority is balancing the books rather than giving patients the urgent treatment they need, and remember here that Mrs Roberts was in danger of losing her sight.

From an NHS-patient perspective, having different strands of the health service which are not all accountable in the same way is a serious issue; it shouldn't need somebody like Mrs Roberts to actually lose her sight before it is taken seriously.

The Duty to Provide a Comprehensive Health Service

‘But there is another, insidious issue, introduced by the recent Health and Social Care Act,' Laurence says. 'Previously, the government had a responsibility to ensure that NHS patients received good treatment. But now their responsibility is only to ‘promote' it.

‘Many NHS services are being contracted out to private healthcare companies, and this kind of rationing has the effect of endorsing private health care further. So it becomes a privatization by default. The process is set up in such a way that all roads lead to privatization and there is nothing the NHS can do about it.

‘If patients can't get urgent treatment on the NHS then, like Mrs Roberts, they will feel forced to pay for it themselves. So the NHS saves money, its budgets can be cut further and more and more work goes to private companies.'

The Roberts family

George Roberts, speaking on behalf of his wife Pamella, said he was appalled at the attitude of the hospital. Having also complained to the health Ombudsman and received a dismissive response, he felt that the entire system had failed his wife.

'I know that at the sharp end, doctors and nurses are working hard under massive pressure,' he said. 'But it feels as if the government are giving the green light to NHS trusts to delay treatments and cancel appointments. Regulators like the Ombudsman are allowing this to happen, and you have to wonder who's sanctioning these decisions.'

You can read the Western Daily Press Article here.

For further information, call Laurence Vick on 01392 688688.

Original Press Release published by Peter Thurlow Public Relations.