politics

Desperate medics lose 8,000 hospital beds after Matt Hancock's NHS blunder


Matt Hancock cancelled contracts with private hospitals that would have given the NHS 8,000 extra beds.

The Health Secretary’s astonishing blunder is revealed today as the NHS struggles with the second wave of coronavirus.

Tonight a critical care unit nurse said: “It’s pure incompetence.”

Desperate health chiefs have been barred from using thousands of emergency private hospital beds because Matt Hancock failed to renew vital contracts.

The astonishing blunder by the Health Secretary means the struggling NHS has been denied access to 8,000 much-needed extra beds as it faces being overwhelmed by Covid admissions.

Last night a record 37,475 people were in hospital in England with the virus – a third of total capacity.

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The Critical Care Unit at the New Cross Hospital, Heart and Lung centre in Wolverhampton. The unit is currently dealing with Covid-19 patients with admissions expecting to peak in the next two weeks.
The Critical Care Unit at the New Cross Hospital, Heart and Lung centre in Wolverhampton

And 100,000 NHS staff were on sick leave – half with Covid.

But doctors’ pleas for help at the worst point in NHS history have been spurned by independent hospitals because special crisis deals expired last month.

Mr Hancock had agreed at the start of the first wave of the pandemic to “block book” private hospital space, giving the NHS access to 8,000 more beds and thousands of staff.

The contracts cost £400million a month but were reviewed after the summer during which two-thirds of the paid-for beds went unused.

Several contracts in London were terminated in August and others reduced to limited local cover.

All contracts ended in December just as the second wave began.

A private sector insider said Mr Hancock was told the independent providers were willing to continue the block booking ­arrangement but the Government did not request it.



Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attends a virtual press conference to update the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 11, 2021
This is an astonishing blunder by Matt Hancock

The insider added: “This was entirely a decision for government.”

Last night the fiasco provoked howls of protest from NHS staff and Opposition politicians.

Dave Carr, 32, a critical care nurse at Guys and St Thomas Hospital trust in London, said: “It’s shocking incompetence and shows a total lack of planning.

“It’s beyond a joke when hospitals all over the country are expanding bed capacity way beyond normal limits, and deaths are reaching 100,000. It is a scandal.

“Matt Hancock is not fit for the job. If I behaved at my job the way he is running the health service I’d be sacked.” Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It didn’t need to be like this.

“After years of Tory bed cuts and now Covid we are in a ­national emergency and we need every bed possible.

“These private beds should be available to the NHS.”



Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth during the Covid-19 debate in the House Of Commons, London.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP was scathing

Now Treasury officials are planning to step in to ­resolve the shambles by triggering emergency payments – at an unofficial estimate of £5billion – to get the deals back on track.

But the new plans are not expected to be in place for another two weeks and will last only until April.

Private sector bosses say they are standing by to help and that the decision to end the contracts – which gave the NHS 100% access to ­thousands of beds, 700 doctors and up to 10,000 nurses – was entirely down to ministers.

The fiasco comes as critically ill patients are being treated in ambulances or transferred hundreds of miles and the backlog for operations and treatment hits a record 4.46 million.

Hospitals in London, Sheffield, and Newcastle are being overwhelmed, border services are sending patients to Scotland and in Birmingham life-saving kidney transplants have been put on hold.

London, one of the hardest-hit areas, is facing a shortage of 2,000 beds by next week, even when the 4,000-bed Nightingale ExCeL facility is included.



The Critical Care Unit at the New Cross Hospital, Heart and Lung centre in Wolverhampton. The unit is currently dealing with Covid-19 patients with admissions expecting to peak in the next two weeks
The unit is currently dealing with Covid-19 patients with admissions expecting to peak in the next two weeks

The private sector’s 25 hospitals in the capital have capacity for half that, with the biggest concentration of private ­services traditionally serving embassies and health tourists.

The crisis is expected to get worse nationally with admissions predicted to rise over the next fortnight even as the rate of infections continues to drop.

Yesterday’s figure of 41,346 was nearly a third down on last Saturday, bringing total infections to 3,357,361. But the daily recorded Covid death toll was 1,295 – a quarter higher than last Saturday, ­sending the total to 88,590.

NHS doctors and health chiefs expressed outrage this week at seeing private hospitals return to routine treatments while the NHS ca no longer access beds and treatment.


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But the private sector insider said: “Any pushback from independent sector hospitals was simply to explain that the Government had decided the NHS no longer had access to the same amount of guaranteed access as before.”

Mr Hancock’s failure was also blasated by Alyson Pollock, a public health specialist at Newcastle University.

She said: “Many patients could be moved to the private sector for treatment and recovery to free up space in the NHS but it is really puzzling to know what’s actually going on. Apart from the health emergency we need to know how the money is being spent.”

Unison’s Christina McAnea said: “Arrangements were in place to help the NHS and now they are not because the Government let them lapse.”

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with independent hospitals so that where needed regionally it is possible to expand use of those extra facilities.”

The Department of Health said: “The NHS is working closely and flexibly with independent sector providers to secure more capacity to provide services including cancer surgery, diagnostics and treatments to help alleviate pressures on our acute hospitals across England through a combination of national and local deals.”

37,475

Record number of people in hospital with coronavirus in England.

Double the peak figure of just below 18,000 during the first wave in April last year.

100,000

The number of NHS workers currently on sick leave.

Half of them have Covid-10 and the problem is casusing a knock on effect for all services.





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