New information also shows private patients may not have access to an independent complaints process at 74 Independent hospitals and 277 NHS hospitals – a key recommendation of the Paterson Inquiry.

London, 9 December 2021: The first ever public release of data showing unplanned transfers across private healthcare today reveals that 583 patients were urgently transferred to receive emergency care following complications during treatment at independent hospitals and NHS Private Patient Units during a one-year period.

The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) – an independent organisation with a government mandate to make private healthcare more transparent – has released this figure as part of a wider dataset of information about safety and risk in the sector.

It equates to a rate of one in every 1,000 patients treated and was most common in independent hospitals in England - occurring 518 times. Additionally 10 patients were transferred from private patient wards at English NHS hospitals to another facility. There were 28 instances in Scotland and 27 in Wales, all from independent hospitals.

The figures relate to the 12-month period up to June 2021 - a total of 577,800 people [1] across the UK received private healthcare treatment during this time.

PHIN’s research also shows patients seeking private treatment at up to 350 UK hospitals may not have access to an independent complaints process if anything goes wrong – with around 80 per cent of those hospitals being NHS-run Private Patient Units.

This was one of the key issues to emerge from the inquiry into convicted surgeon Ian Paterson, with private patients unable to escalate complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, even if they are treated in NHS facilities.

The news comes weeks before the government is expected to publish its full response to the Paterson inquiry recommendations, which were set out last year.

PHIN’s data also shows that 340 private patients died over the same 12 month period to June 2021. The majority of patients that died (304) were treated at independent hospitals in England. A further 32 private patients died following private treatment in NHS hospitals in England. The remaining deaths occurred in Scotland (2) and Wales (2), both at independent hospitals.

This figure is a total of all mortalities, including patients that died during treatment for cancer and or for terminal care.

A further 644 patients needed to be returned to theatre across the UK following complications in their treatment while 975 were readmitted to a hospital for emergency care related to their private treatment.

PHIN has released the figures as part of its role to support people considering private healthcare by providing independent information about safety and quality.

Matt James, Chief Executive of PHIN said:

“We have published this information to help patients get a clearer understanding of safety and risk when receiving private treatment at independent hospitals and NHS Private Patient Units.
“The rate of these events is relatively small, and the majority will inevitably happen in more complex cases, but it is still important to know that these are possible outcomes of treatment.
“If you are considering private treatment, you have the right to research your care providers - you have to be comfortable that they are the best fit. There is information and advice on our website to help inform your conversations with your hospitals and consultant.”

PHIN can also reveal concerns about private patients’ ability to escalate complaints to an independent body.

The Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS) was set up for people choosing private treatment and is recognised by health regulators across the UK. While all of the larger hospital providers offer access to ISCAS, 351 do not. Of those, the vast majority (277) are NHS trusts that provide paid-for services.

Sally Taber, Director of ISCAS said:

“It may come as a surprise to people to hear that private healthcare patients who are unhappy with their care don’t have access to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, even if they are treated at an NHS hospital.
“Details of where patients can access ISCAS’s complaints service are available on PHIN’s website. It’s really important that people have access to good information about the quality of care provided and it is as equally important that they can research how their chosen hospital will manage an issue if things do go wrong.”

Regarding complaints, Matt James said:

“The vast majority of people treated as private patients have a good experience – with positive patient satisfaction and experience scores routinely more than 95%.
“However, when patients aren’t happy with their care, there needs to be a process for their voice to be heard and access to independent complaints is a vital part of that.
“Unfortunately, as we wait for the Government’s response to the Paterson Inquiry, still too many private patients don’t have this right.
“We are really happy to be working with ISCAS to make sure that patients know where they can - and more importantly – where they cannot access these important services. Our website is here for everyone considering private treatment.”

To help patients and people considering which healthcare provider is right for them, PHIN has produced a series of short guides explaining each of the measures published today, as well as information about complaints for private patients.