While most of the NHS battles to catch back up with a still-growing backlog of patients waiting for elective treatment, Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust is looking instead to expand its private patient business.

In 2019/20 its income from private patients, £8.1m, was less than 1% of its £960m turnover – and according to Healthcare Markets magazine CEO Bruno Holthof is now looking for private hospital operators to help increase this, beginning in the second half of this year.

This is despite the failure of the trust’s attempt in 2019 to launch a central London an “executive diagnostics and screening centre” in partnership in with US-owned Mayo Clinic, which lasted only a few months.

It appears Oxford trust bosses are lured again by hopes of matching the hefty profit margins of Manchester’s Christie NHS Foundation Trust, which claimed to have £13m profit from £48m turnover in a project with US-owned HCA last year, a profit margin significantly higher than most private hospital chains in England.

With the trust bumping along with just over 70% of cancer patients receiving treatment within 2 months of referral against a national target of 85%, and well below the national average with around 67% of cancer patients seeing a consultant within two weeks of referral compared with a 92% target, we might expect management attention to be focused in getting the NHS performance up to scratch.

Although the Trust has reduced its bed numbers by less than many others, its occupancy levels were down for the third quarter of 2020-21 compared with the previous year, from 97.1% to 88.7%. This does not indicate that the Trust has any spare NHS capacity that could be handed over for private patients without impacting on performance.

So despite promises that any profits will be “reinvested in NHS services” it’s likely OUHFT’s long-suffering NHS patients would rather NHS management’s attention was focused on meeting their needs rather than running after hopes of big bucks from the world’s wealthy.

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