Tunbridge Wells Hospital is battling to deal with an ‘unprecedented’ demand for its services from NHS patients – hundreds of operations have been cancelled – while at the same time it is making more than a million pounds a year treating private patients.
Overstretched resources mean that Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust is also paying for some NHS patients to have operations at ‘independent sector providers’. It has further reported a surge in the number of people attending A&E.
The Trust has disclosed that it is charging millions of pounds to provide healthcare in its wing for private patients at Pembury.
According to recent figures, income from private patients rose by 81 per cent from £3.9million to £6.9million between 2010 and 2015.
However, while it does not dispute the figures, the Trust argues that they must be viewed in context and deny the provision of private care has contributed to the cancellation of 350 operations at Pembury.
A spokeswoman said: “The figures are not a like for like comparison and are in no way indicative of private care taking priority over NHS care.
“NHS patients will always take priority. The increase in income is a reflection ofÂ private patients’ wishes to use the NHS when that is possible and at no time is this at the detriment of our NHS patients.”
She explained that patient income was used to provide services which would otherwise be unaffordable with income derived solely from the NHS, but confirmed the hospital was under huge pressure.
“Since the beginning of January 2016, unprecedented demand on our emergency services has resulted in around 400 patients for elective surgery being cancelled prior to their operation date across a number of specialities,” she said.
Of these cancellations, 350 were at the Tunbridge Wells Hospital, with some operations being transferred to Maidstone Hospital or the private sector.
In a statement, the Trust said it was ‘committed to run extra operating sessions as soon as we can to bring patients in as quickly as possible’.
It also confirmed the winter weather had led to an increase in the number of people, understood to be ‘very sick’, using A&E, with numbers jumping from an average of 320 to 370 a day.
To deal with the capacity crunch, the hospital said it was opening a new 38-bed ward this month and that it remained ‘committed’ to the 18-week standard waiting time, adding:
“The Trust is doing everything it can to return the elective service back to normal as soon as possible and minimise disruption for patients.
“We apologise to all patients who have experienced cancellations, and would like to reassure them we are working hard to reschedule their procedures as quickly as we possibly can.”