'Stealth privatisation' of the NHS? Private patients in NHS hospitals

25 April 2015

This article has been updated.

"Average Private Patient Income per Foundation Trust is up 58 per cent since 2010, including a 17 per cent rise in the year the Tory-led Government abolished the Private Patient Income Cap." - Labour press release, 25th April

This is right, if you don't include ambulance trusts in the figures. Labour told Full Fact they did that on the basis that ambulance trusts don't make much money from private services, so the abolishment of the cap on this income won't have affected them in the same way.

Either way, foundation trusts - which have more freedom over their finances than other hospitals - are getting more money from private patients on average in 2013/14 than in 2009/10, prompting the Labour Party to raise concerns about NHS privatisation by stealth.

But then again, those trusts are getting more money from all their activities than in 2009/10. Over the same period the proportion of Trusts' income that came from private patients went up from 0.8% to 0.9%.

Income from private patients - up 58% for Foundation Trusts

In 2013/14 Foundation Trusts got £389 million of their income from private patients, compared to £224 million in 2009/10. That's according to the body that oversees the trusts, Monitor.

The number of foundation trusts went up in that period from 129 to 147. So Labour have adjusted for this by working out the average income per foundation trust, although they haven't included five ambulance trusts in their 2013/14 figures on the basis that these, they say, get very little private income.

Income per trust is up from £1.7 million in 2009/10 to £2.7 million by those methods, a rise of 58%. If you included the five ambulance trusts income would be closer to £2.6 million per trust, meaning a rise of 52%.

Income from private patients still below 1%

Labour are proposing that income from private patients be capped at 2% of the total for trusts unless they're meeting "strict safeguards" on the care given to NHS patients.

The sector as a whole is well within that target already, with 0.9% of operating income coming from private patients in 2013/14, up from 0.8% in 2009/10. The total is capped at 49%, and if trusts want to grow this income by more than five percentage points in a year they have to get prior approval.

That said, some hospital trusts from within the 147 foundation trusts got a significantly higher proportion of their income from private patients. At least four of them got a tenth or more of their income in this way. They were: the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, and Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust.

Update 26th April 2015

This article originally used "billion" were "million" was meant, on multiple occasions. We've corrected this.

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