Coronavirus: Private hospitals enable vital surgery to go ahead

By Thomas Mackintosh
BBC News, London

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image captionRobert Rodrigues with his fiancée after proposing in New Zealand last year

Private healthcare facilities - largely the preserve of the affluent prior to the coronavirus pandemic - have been made available to NHS patients in recent weeks. It has meant some cancer or cardiac patients considered at high risk if they contracted Covid-19 are now able to undergo critical surgery.

On the day the UK went into lockdown, 32-year-old Robert Rodrigues received the news that he had cancer.

"I was due to get married the week I found out I was diagnosed," he said.

The wedding and honeymoon were all put on hold - as large gatherings and foreign travel were restricted - and Mr Rodrigues tried to make sense of his diagnosis.

"I saw the coronavirus as a lesser evil compared to suffering from cancer and it spreading," he said.

"I tend not to be a worrier which is a good thing. The doctors were all so professional and pulling me through all the way.

"Their opinion was let's act quick and I kept telling myself that everything was in hand."

Because of the risk of spreading or catching coronavirus, Mr Rodrigues's diagnosis and all of his consultations were carried out remotely.

image captionMr Rodrigues's consultation was carried out remotely

Within three days he was in the privately-run London Bridge Hospital having his tumour removed before it spread.

It was all possible because of a historic deal made between the NHS and private hospitals to acquire thousands of extra beds, ventilators and medical staff.

"I would definitely urge anyone to get checked out," he added. "There is no reason for being stuck at home - the healthcare system is still looking after people who have things not related to Covid-19."

London Bridge is one of 28 private and independent hospitals in the capital which have helped the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak.

Operating theatres, beds and intensive care units have all been made available to NHS patients at no extra cost, the hospital's chief executive Janene Madden said.

Strict precautions are in place to ensure the hospital remains as coronavirus free as possible.

image copyrightHCA
image captionLondon Bridge Hospital is privately run by HCA Healthcare

Temperatures are taken and full personal protective equipment (PPE) is donned by staff during complex surgeries.

Patients are swabbed in the throat and through the nose 48 hours prior to surgery to make sure they are not coronavirus positive - if they are then the surgery is put on hold.

Former milkman Ted Grenham, from East Peckham in Kent, is another patient who has undergone a life-saving operation, this time to have a valve put into his heart.

image captionNHS patient Ted Grenham had life-saving heart surgery at the privately-run London Bridge Hospital

Mr Grenham has just turned 83 and because of his age and heart problem is considered to be at risk from coronavirus. Many London hospitals have large numbers of Covid-19 patients and undergoing surgery at one would have been too risky.

"We have had more than 1,000 Covid patients at King's [College Hospital]," says Prof Phil MacCarthy - part of a team of doctors at the hospital who have come to London Bridge to operate on Mr Grenham.

"There are many, many wards full of patients.

"So this risk benefit about exposing the patient [to coronavirus] versus leaving them alone is that much more difficult at King's because trying to keep them Covid free at King's is very much harder.

"The risk of contracting Covid at London Bridge Hospital in this relatively Covid-free environment is a lot less than at King's.

image copyrightHCA
image captionProf Phil MacCarthy said fewer cancer diagnostics were happening

"We are working on a recovery plan to get the patients back to King's to start doing these procedures but that's a complex plan.

"What we are seeing for the first time is NHS staff working with private hospital staff and they work very well together - I've been very impressed."

The extra resources for the NHS have helped make other urgent treatments possible during the pandemic.

The NHS often uses private sector facilities when the need arises, but it is the mass purchasing of these resources which is unprecedented.

Elsewhere across the capital, The Cromwell Hospital, in Kensington, is also ensuring critical urology, gynaecology, colorectal and endocrine surgery are made available for patients from several London NHS trusts.

Director Phil Luce said Bupa was "dedicated to helping alleviate pressure" on the NHS and it had also shared ventilators with the new temporary Nightingale hospital in east London.

"We're facing the greatest challenge in healthcare that we have seen in our lifetime," he said.

"We will do whatever we can to support the NHS to ensure patients get the medical help they need."

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