As NHS waiting lists have expanded and waiting times have grown, private knee surgery has never looked a more attractive option. But if, as is anticipated, private hospitals remain drafted in to help address the NHS backlog, will private patients be disadvantaged? Jim Newman explains why private treatment is set to remain the express route to pain relief.
You can’t have missed the headlines: ‘Urgent patients waiting four years to see NHS consultants’, said The Irish News. ‘NHS on life support’ read the Independent’s recent article, with a claim that ‘one in six will be on waiting lists’.
There’s no escaping the fact that Covid-19 has left an extremely damaging legacy and we’re clearly not out of the woods yet. In an effort to combat the growing number of patients waiting for treatment, news outlets are reporting that private hospitals – which have been drafted into NHS work since April – are set to be ‘integrated into the NHS like never before’. The FT suggests the bill for continuing the relationship could be £10 billion, a move which would help keep capacity up if, as the Independent claims, the continuing threat of coronavirus forces NHS hospitals to run at 60% capacity throughout the autumn.
Private Patient Concerns
If you have private healthcare and you’ve been waiting for the current Covid crisis to subside before talking to us about your knee pain, all of the above is likely to set some alarm bells ringing:
- Does the uptake of private facilities for NHS purposes mean that the waiting list for private treatment is about to grow too?
- If many NHS patients are likely to be treated in private facilities, is there really any value in choosing the private route?
I’m a private knee surgeon with Yorkshire Knee Clinic. But I am also the Head of Clinical Service for Trauma and Orthopaedics at the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, so I have a clear view of the situation from the NHS and private perspective.
The first point to clarify is that whilst I wouldn’t wish to downplay the healthcare challenges the UK faces at present, some of the reporting is wide of the mark. We should not, as the Independent suggests, expect the NHS to be running at 60% capacity this autumn, for example. Trusts are continuing to open up normal capacity and are working toward 100%. We’re working weekends to boost progress further. To maintain that position trusts have now established ‘green sites’. These are largely Covid-free sites which will continue to offer surgery (including knee replacements and ACL reconstructions), and help to ensure a second wave, surge or spike won’t have the same effect as the first.
It is possible that, if the surge is big enough, we might expect anaesthetists to be redeployed back into intensive care units. This may have an impact on ‘regular’ NHS surgery, but at this stage we simply don’t know what that impact will be – it depends entirely on the nature of the second wave.
The Impact On Private Surgery
So, to return to our earlier questions, does the use of private resource for NHS purposes mean your waiting time will increase? It is probably fair to say that things have taken – and will take – rather longer than normal for private patients. Yet it is equally important to note that diagnosis and treatment remains much quicker than under the NHS and that’s not likely to change because capacity will continue to be set aside for private patients.
Is Private Treatment For Your Knee Still Worth It?
Our position on this remains as it has throughout the pandemic. If you need knee surgery on the NHS, you will get it. Yet whilst your operation may take place in a private hospital, you will have to wait longer than you would pre-pandemic.
Private patients may have to wait a little longer than they might be accustomed to too. But it remains the case that you will always be seen and treated quicker by taking the private healthcare option.
Private treatment, of course, isn’t purely about your hospital experience. From diagnosis to post-op recovery, taking the private route will ensure a faster service throughout your treatment.
And that’s why private remains a route worth taking.
Consultant Knee Surgeon at the Yorkshire Knee Clinic
“I couldn't recommend him highly enough.”
Charles Turner, YKC patient
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