From Private Eye: the Private Patients’ Forum, funded by Private Health Care

This is another story from Private Eye on the conflict of interest and malpractice of private healthcare companies, which fund the Private Patients’ Forum. This claims to present the best private hospitals and medical practices. It is supported, amongst others, by HCA International, which is under investigation in the US for performing unnecessary operations.

‘Private Healthcare

In Dependence Day

London’s Portland and Wellington hospitals are among the best known – and most expensive – private medical facilities in the UK.

Embarrassingly, they and four others in the capital are owned by the largest for-profit operator in the United States, Tennessee-based HCA International, which is under investigation by federal authorities for performing unnecessary heart procedures at its American hospitals. The US justice department said it would review billing and medical records at 95 HCA hospitals, more than half the company’s total count.

One way for-profit hospitals and doctors can make money is by carrying out unnecessary treatments and surgery. Last year Bupa accused some of Britain’s top surgeons of performing knee arthoscopies (which earn them £600 a time) without medical justification.

There is of course no suggestion that the Portland, the Wellington or HCA’s other outfits in the UK (it is now also providing private treatment in three NHS foundation hospitals, University College London, Queen’s in Essex and The Christie in Manchester) would do something so scandalous. And if any hospital or doctor did operate without good reason or put in excessive bills, the recently established consumer website Private Patients’ Fourm (PPF) would surely be the first to raise the alarm.

“We are committed to helping you to be treated fairly when you decide to use private medical care, ” it claims, presenting itself as a veritable Which? of private medicine, with details of “your rights as a patient and information on how to complain”, as well as attacks on insurers over claims settlements, in particular Bupa.

The site is free to use – so how does it get funding? Not from appeals or subscriptions or advertising or click-throughs but, according to the site, from “a range of interest groups in the private healthcare industry”. However, it add, “no influence or control over the Private Patients’ Forum will be gained by making a contribution to our running costs. This is a key condition – quite simply, PPF is robustly independent and will remain so.”

Foremost among the backers is, er, HCA International, which has offered “generous financial support2, and the Federation of Independent Practitioner Organisations (FIPO), a company limited by guarantee. And who funds FIPO? The accounts for HCA International Ltd, the company’s UK arm, show that in 2010 FIPO was the top recipient of its “charitable” donations at £110,000, well over half the federation’s total expenditure of £182,210 – though FIPO is not, in fact, registered with the Charity Commission.

Meanwhile FIPO’s latest accounts show that more than a fifth of that spending – £42,958 – went to the Private Patient’s Forum. So the money goes from the owners of Wellington via a private doctors’ federation to a consumer website that complains about the meanness of the insurers who pay many patients’ hospital bills.

The current US department of justice probe into whether heart operations were really needed isn’t HCA’s first spot of bother with officialdom. In June 2003, the department revealed that: “HCA Inc has agreed to pay the United States $631m in civil penalties and damages arising from false claims the government alleged it submitted to Medicate and other federal health programmes.”

By then HCA had already coughed up another $1bn after pleading guilty to “substantial criminal conduct”. As the department said: “Health care providers and professionals hold a public trust and when that trust is violated by fraud and abuse of programme funds, and by the payment of kickbacks to the physicians on whom patients and the programmes rely for uncompromised medical judgement, healthcare for Americans suffers”.

Clearly it couldn’t happen here. For, unlike those poor Americans, British patients have the benefit of a “robustly independent” watchdog, sponsored by HCA, to champion their rights!’

Remember, these are the private healthcare companies campaigning for the dismantlement of the NHS so they can grab some of its business.

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