As many patients have found, the COVID pandemic has led to a shift to online triage and virtual consultations. However, what else has changed and how have London's private hospitals and clinics responded to the disruption caused, in order to restore quality patient care?
At the outset of the pandemic the majority of the private hospital provision was contracted en-block by NHS England. More latterly increasing amounts of private work have been permitted. Nevertheless the government contract seriously curtailed usual private practice. Some patients were unable to get the treatment they needed, and in most cases access to treatments become more complicated. For example, by agreeing to provide a "COVID light" environment for surgery, hospital theatre time was restricted for private patients.
What are London doctors saying?
Total Health has spoken to a large number of senior consultants from across the private hospitals in order to find out more about their experience, frustration with the restrictions and how they have risen to meet the challenges of the new environment.
Consultant Interventional Radiologist, Dr Nigel Hacking says his hospital, "Closed for elective private patients from March to July." He goes onto describe how he personally then waited further before he was happy to resume operating on patients, "Once it re-opened I waited until I was confident that I and my co-workers would be safe and that my patients would not only be safe to come into hospital, but that they would have the confidence in the hospital to come in. Weekly testing of staff and an absence of any cases in staff and patients in the hospital has strengthened that position".
One of London's top hip and knee surgeons, Mr Howard Ware states that he found only being able to provide remote care particularly challenging as digital remote care is simply not good enough for detailed knee examination.
Consultant neurosurgeon, Mr Ian Sabin says that although initially very little private work could take place, things have now started to return to normal. He says, "The gamma knife operated outside of the NHS contract and we continued to treat cancer patients. We have been able to treat benign disease since June. There are restrictions in force common to many hospitals".
Miss Adeola Olaitan who specialises in oncological gynaecology adds: "By taking precautions and working in a COVID-green environment, I have been able to keep myself, my staff and my patients safe. I think it is important to continue to provide healthcare despite the pandemic."
Head and neck surgeon, Mr Francis Vaz says, "All back to normal for the moment". He is performing the following procedures:
- Sinus surgery
Cancer doesn't stop for COVID
In light of the fact that numbers of patients being referred for cancer care have fallen, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Dr Andy Gaya reiterates the need to keep services going saying, "Cancer doesn’t stop for COVID!" He says that there is a "big push to remote consultations", and he is specialising in providing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for gastrointestinal malignancy.
Overcoming the difficulties
Professor of Radiology, Edward Leen reports that providing medical services during this pandemic has been, "difficult", however, he is able now to provide biopsies, radio frequency ablation (RFA), microwave and nanoknife ablations of lung, liver, kidneys and pancreas.
Nicola Maffuli, Professor of Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery, says that there has been, "Never ending disruption!" and goes on to say, that it is, "Better now, but implications to be felt for at least next year!".
Shoulder expert, Consultant Surgeon Mr Simon Owen-Johnstone points to the fact that there have been new challenges with the need for extra diagnostic tests and the availability of theatres. However, he says that they are happy that they have overcome the difficulties and are now operating smoothly.
The Independent Healthcare Providers Network state:
Private treatment in London continued throughout the period where London hospitals were under contract to the NHS to assist with the government’s Covid-19 response. The amount of private treatment done in London grew over the summer and now that the majority of central London providers are no longer under contract to the NHS then activity levels are rapidly returning to normal; indeed, in cancer care private activity is now up year-on-year. For those providers in outer London still on the national NHS contract more dedicated capacity for private treatment has been secured.
patients can expect the usual high quality care with rapid access
It would therefore be accurate to state that private treatment is available to anyone that wishes to seek it in London, and that patients can expect the usual high quality care with rapid access.