Over 100 delegates from Private Patient Units from across the UK attended the Sixth National Conference at St Thomas’ Hospital, London in mid-March to share best practices on improving access, growing their market and driving forward financial success for their PPUs.

Chaired by Kim Foord-Paton, Head of Private Patients and Adam Fox, Commercial Medical Director and Dr Mark Ibrahim, Clinical Lead Private Practice at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust the event included case studies led by Sarah Porter, Private and Overseas Patient Manager at Taunton and Somerset NHSFT and Anne Bishop, Private Healthcare Business Manager, Royal Devon and Exeter NHSFT. Sarah shared local examples of growing private treatment and care options, particularly self-pay, that are complementary to the core NHS services the Trust provides. Anne’s key message was a call for Trusts to support collaborative working and the creation of further regional groups and a national support network to promote best practice and a more joined-up approach.

Sarah Porter, Private and Overseas Patient Manager at Taunton and Somerset NHSFT

Philip Housden, Managing Director, Housden Group delivered the annual state of the market report. He also highlighted a range of most important market drivers that are going to influence the shape of NHS PPUs in the coming years.  The most important of these being a changing culture, led from the top, to support NHS PPUs across the NHS, patient safety in the light of the Paterson Enquiry, leading to more demand from patients for the confidence of 24/7 critical care infrastructure and capacity. Philip urged joined-up thinking and action across the sector to achieve the opportunity to open and grow PPUs in every Trust.

Philip delivers the annual state of the market report

Delegates also heard from Jonathan Finney, Member Services Director, PHIN on how their data is starting to impact the private healthcare market. He urged NHS PPUs to start to use the PHIN website to demonstrate their volume and quality of services as increasingly patients are searching trusted sources to help make informed decisions about their care.

Sally Taber, Director of ISCAS (the Independent Sector Complaints Advisory Service) reminded the conference that private patients in the NHS cannot access the service of the NHS Ombudsman if they have a complaint. Trusts can join ISCAS, a subscription-based member organisation, to provide an important independent third stage review process for PPUs.

Representatives from health insurers Bupa, Aviva and AXA-PPP took an informative panel-based session. The challenge of balancing the price of insurance and costs of healthcare provision versus Trust’s experience of lower tariffs for the provision of more complex patient care were explored, amongst a range of topical issues and concerns. If treated as a single provider NHS PPUs would together form the insurers’ 4th biggest customer and moves in that direction could open opportunities for insurers and the NHS to deliver better value for private patients.

John Crompton, Head of Hospital Management, Bupa, Doug Wright, Medical Director, Aviva and Mathew Cox, Hospital Relationship Manager, AXA-PPP

Closing the conference, Nick Dawson, Head of Commercial, Finance and Analytics, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) encouraged Trusts to continue their efforts in generating additional income from private patients in line with best practice and where this brings benefits to local NHS patients and services.

The market has the opportunity, he said, for PPUs to fill in service gaps left open by small private hospitals which could be worth an extra £800m to £1b a year income to Trusts.

The event included the first NHS PPU Professional Achievement Awards. The Awards were established to recognise excellence in PPUs with all finalists demonstrating dedication in delivering excellence across various areas of PPU services.