Private hospitals v NHS: study is not the full picture

  • Research that shows better outcomes for private hospitals is missing the key depth to be definitive.
  • The data shows that NHS patients treated in private hospitals are wealthier, older, fitter and more are white.

Healthcare Markets magazine was predictably delighted to largely reprint a recent press release from Birmingham University on research showing that NHS operations delivered in private hospitals appear to involve “shorter hospital stays and fewer readmissions than in NHS hospitals.”

Especially congenial to the private sector magazine are the assurances from Birmingham Uni’s Professor Richard Lilford, that despite “plausible concerns” regarding the safety of elective surgery in the independent sector: 

“Taken in the round, our findings provide a measure of reassurance that independent sector healthcare providers [IHSPs] are providing an acceptable service.”

However, keeping the door open for further research projects funded by the  National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) the Prof went on to note that:

“our results stop short of total reassurance, and ongoing scrutiny of a richer set of outcomes and further investigation of practice is required in both the NHS and the independent sector.”

Indeed the initial project may have sifted through 3.5million episodes of care between 2006 and 2019, but it asked very few questions, and made no attempt to explain or evaluate the results they found, even though the clues are in plain sight.

Full story in The Lowdown, 15 November 2021

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