3,000 NHS staff get private health care
More than 3,000 staff, including doctors and nurses, have gone private at the taxpayers’ expense in the past three years because the queues at the clinics and hospitals where they work are too long.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information act show that NHS administrative staff, paramedics and ambulance drivers have also been given free private healthcare. This has covered physiotherapy, osteopathy, psychiatric care and counselling — all widely available on the NHS.
“It simply isn’t fair to have one service for staff and another for everyone else,” said Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, who obtained the figures.
“If the NHS has to circumvent their own waiting lists the system isn’t working well enough. It’s an admission by the NHS that their own system isn’t able to respond to the mass of people desperate to get back to work.”
The number of health service employees sent to private healthcare facilities has more than doubled in the past three years.
In 2006-7, 708 staff working for NHS trusts received private treatment at a cost of £279,000. Last year it increased to 1,641 at a cost of £828,413.
The health department defended the practice and said sending doctors, nurses and other key staff for private treatment helped to get them back to work.
“If trusts want to get their staff back to work more quickly they can’t jump NHS waiting lists, so going private is an option,” said the spokesman.
“There is evidence that early intervention in tackling sickness absence enables staff to return to work more quickly. Other benefits include: reducing the risk of chronic illness that could result in ill health retirement, cost-saving on temporary staff and having a positive impact on staff health and wellbeing and, in turn, patient satisfaction.”
The East Midlands ambulance service recently set up a contract with a private occupational healthcare specialist worth £300,000 a year. It has sent its staff to the specialist for vaccines, health screening and to deal with needle injuries and blood tests.
Other big spenders include the south east coast ambulance service, which has sent more than 800 staff for physiotherapy, osteopathy and counselling at a cost of more than £279,000 over three years.
Humber mental health trust has spent more than £47,000 on private counselling, even though it specialises in offering this service along with psychiatric help. A spokeswoman said staff would feel awkward being counselled by NHS colleagues.
“An appropriate and professional counselling and therapeutic service has to be free from any other existing pressures in respect of relationships and therefore cannot always be provided by an organisation,” she said.
“Staff may also be referred externally due to peak of demand to meet the need in a timely manner.”
West Suffolk hospital has spent £56,000 over the past three years on private treatment for staff but said it would no longer do so.