Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The ABC of PSTCs

According to evidence unearthed by the Financial Times, the NHS have 'suppressed' evidence which prove projects which were giving "very good value for money" were then scrapped to redirect cash into buying £750,000,000 of private care for patients.

Private Sector Treatment Centres or PSTCs - were the 'Great White Hope' of Labour's reduction in hospital waiting lists. Staffed primarily by South African or Scandinavian teams of doctors and nurses, the intention was for these centres to (no pun intended) 'hack' into waiting lists for scheduled procedures, performing routine operation after routine operation, cutting down the numbers of patients waiting for surgery.

The idea had serious drawbacks - firstly these 'routine operations' allowed our newly qualified trainee surgeons to hone their skills on more straightforward procedures. PSTCs cherry-picked all this simple work, leaving trainees with more complex operations and little opportunity to practice. Secondly, the cost of these centres - which to attract overseas "contractors" was much higher than employing home-grown expertise - was topsliced directly from the budgets of the hospitals where they were based, leaving cash-strapped hospital with even less money.

'Independent' review teams called in by Government stated that the £550m spent on PSTCs, together with a further £200m spent on diagnostics, "represented good value for money". Strategic Health Authorities agreed the deal "was appropriate and very welcome".

But just a year later, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has cancelled most of the contracts, claiming that the massively improved NHS no longer needs the help. Already Government is spending tens of millions of pounds compensating out of pocket businesses for the tendering costs they have lost.

UBS's Ken Anderson who negotiated the contracts, left just a few months later, as did Lord Norman Warner, the Health Secretary who pushed the deals through. And the only real losers? You and me - the taxpayers. Just another day, another massive waste of hundreds of millions in public money.

Better luck next time? How long can this go on?

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