NHS patients still being sent to unsafe private hospital

The NHS will continue to send patients to a private hospital found to be unsafe by the health watchdog even though insurers are now refusing to send clients there.

Yesterday Bupa, Axa PPP and Aviva said that they would stop using Fawkham Manor Hospital in Kent immediately after a report said patients were being put at "high risk of avoidable harm".

Health service commissioners said that they would carry on paying the hospital, run by BMI Healthcare, the largest private hospital group in the UK, to treat NHS patients.

“This is one of the worst reports I have read into any hospital,” Gareth Johnson, the MP for Dartford, said of the report into Fawkham Manor. “Unless and until these problems are sorted out I don’t think it is a safe place for any patients, NHS or private.”

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) saw the wrong patient being taken into an operating theatre, splatters of blood and dust on an operating table and staff failing to wash their hands before going into theatre. The leadership team “did not understand risks” they said. Fawkham Manor treated about 2,000 NHS inpatients and 8,600 NHS outpatients in 2015-16.

“Staff told us meeting financial targets was seen as a priority at the expense of quality and safety,” inspectors said, and that “the hospital was only concerned about the amount of patients they operate on.

Elizabeth Kershaw, who led the CQC team inspecting the hospital, said: "While we were there we observed the wrong patient being taken in to theatre. We were appalled."

After seeing the report all three of the UK’s major private medical insurers said they would no longer send patients to Fawkham.

AXA said: “We have suspended our recognition of the hospital with immediate effect. The suspension will remain in place until we are satisfied that the hospital has properly addressed the CQC’s concerns.”

Bupa added: “We have temporarily suspended recognition of Fawkham Manor until the CQC are comfortable appropriate changes have been made.”

But local NHS Commissioning groups said they would continue to use the hospital.

A spokeswoman for the groups said Fawkham Manor was “commissioned to provide a limited service to some local NHS patients.”

“Since the inspection, BMI has set out a detailed action plan to address the CQC’s findings. We will work supportively with the hospital over the coming months and ensure close scrutiny of the actions being taken,” she said.

Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which runs the nearby Darent Valley Hospital, said: “We offer Fawkham Manor as a choice of hospital to a small number of patients awaiting non-urgent routine operations as part of our waiting list initiative.  The safety of patients remains our primary concern at the Trust.”

NHS England said it could not comment on the decisions made by local NHS commissioners. BMI healthcare said it was working to address the areas where the hospital needed to improve.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We expect any hospital providing care to NHS patients that has been rated as ‘inadequate’ by independent inspectors to improve care as quickly as possible.

“It is up to local NHS organisations to assure themselves that the quality of care being provided to NHS patients is of a high standard, and if not, we’d expect that they review any arrangements they have with both private and NHS providers.”

The CQC’s inspection of the hospital last summer was prompted by a police investigation into one of its orthopaedic surgeons, Mohammed Suhaib Sait.

Sait is currently being investigated by police and BMI over claims he performed substandard and unnecessary surgery, which he financially benefited from, on NHS and private patients at Fawkham Manor. Law firm Access Legal said it is now representing around 20 former patients in claims against him and has raised questions over Fawkham’s failure to recall Sait’s patients for review.

Bupa, Aviva and AXA have all crossed Sait off their lists of approved consultants.

Despite this, the surgeon is still operating at Darent Valley Hospital.

Last December the General Medical Council said Sait must not see female patients without a chaperone and must notify the GMC of changes in his employment. However the Bureau understands these conditions relate to complaints of inappropriate behaviour by female patients and that the regulator has not considered the other serious allegations against him.

The Bureau asked the GMC if it had assessed potential risks posed by Sait to patients based on the claims relating to his surgical practice.

A spokesman said: “We do not comment on investigations.”

The allegations have been repeatedly put to Sait by the Bureau but he has not responded.

Main image via Shutterstock