Under the supremely inappropriate label of “My Choice,” Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust has decided to cash in on frustration at the growing list of treatments excluded from the NHS by cost-cutting CCGs in Merseyside and Warrington, and launch its own private NHS patient service.

There are fears that this is the increasingly commercial face of the NHS that is emerging from almost a decade of austerity on funding, and six years of legislation that urged Foundation Trusts like Warrington to make up to 50% of their income from private medicine.

Patients whose painful and debilitating health problems are now branded as “Low Clinical Priority” by commissioners, despite their proven value, can now nonetheless purchase the operations for cash up front from an NHS trust, which congratulates itself on its “affordable self-pay service,” which charges “the local NHS price, previously paid for by commissioners.”

Now – just as it was before the NHS was founded – patients who can afford it are urged to stump up the cost of treatment themselves, while for the many who can’t there is not even a shrug. The trust’s website boasts that whereas My Choice was originally created in 2013, “the service has been significantly extended to include the large number of procedures no longer available on the NHS”.

It obligingly offers an extensive price list, including Hip replacements at £7,050; Knees at £7,179; and Cataracts at £1,624 each; as this is finalised the Mirror has just found an additional price list quoting up to £18,000 for a hip operation. Chief executive Mel Pickup says: “Procedures of low clinical priority do not mean low value to our patients, and we are pleased to be able to make a large number available at a really affordable price, at their local hospitals.”

But this is not a Private Patient Unit. Patients are warned not to expect any special treatment: they are simply paying for NHS treatment that was once free.

“There are no private rooms and they will join the same waiting list as NHS patients. The major benefit is access to outstanding NHS treatments at a fraction of the cost of those undertaken by private providers.”

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It may not be long before other NHS trusts in the area and elsewhere in the country are following the Warrington model, excluding large numbers of elective treatments from the NHS for those without the money to pay.

The same long list of 71 excluded services has been imposed by all seven CCGs in Merseyside and Warrington, under the pretext of helping to “reduce variation” of access to NHS services in different areas (“sometimes called ‘postcode lottery’ in the media”) and “allow fair and equitable treatment for all local patients.”

To promote this massive shrinking of NHS cover as “My Choice” adds insult to injury.

Anyone accessing the service would choose for the NHS to pick up the tab rather than fork out themselves, and be told that by paying out thousands of pounds they are enabling the Trust to “make use of spare capacity and generate additional income to support our other services.”

Campaigners are urging local MPs to step in and hold the CCG to account, and call for normal NHS services to be resumed.

Questions also need to be asked of the Trust’s board of governors whose sanction is needed before such policies are implemented – and the so far silent NHS England and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, on why they are conniving at, or driving such an erosion of the NHS.

John Lister
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