Swindon hospital accused of 'conflict' over Vienna visit

Great Western Hospital Image copyright Michael Dibb/Geograph
Image caption Circle wants to build a rehab centre in Swindon

A hospital has been accused of a conflict of interest after senior staff accepted a trip from a private firm to Austria to see a rehabilitation centre.

Circle Health wants to build a rehab unit at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon and paid for the trip.

The hospital is one of several in the UK to have overseas visits paid for by the company, which wants to build a number of similar centres for the NHS.

The trust said the expenses had been declared on its website.

Six staff from Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - both managers and clinicians - made the trip to Vienna in December 2017 and visited two facilities operated by Vamed - a firm working with Circle.

Six made the trip, four were paid by Circle and two by the trust.

The trip was highlighted by a whistleblower who spoke to the campaign group Protect Our NHS Swindon. They claim it is a conflict of interest.

On its website, the trust said its staff had visited Austria to "scope the potential" for a unit "built and run by Circle".

The trust that runs the hospital said the visit has not committed them to "procuring this model from an individual organisation".

"No final decision on funding or the model has been made yet."

Image caption Protect Our NHS Swindon is concerned that the trip was paid for by Circle

The centre would help the hospital discharge patients more quickly by providing a facility to help them recover.

"There was a visit to Austria ... where there was apparently a decision to go with Circle," said Samantha Wathen from Protect Our NHS.

"It appears to be funded by a private provider so there appears to be some leaning to going with private provision for this facility.

"We believe that... provision should stay within the NHS. It's incredibly costly and expensive to go outside of the NHS."

The healthcare company wants to open a 120 bed rehab centre in Birmingham in the summer - although no contracts with NHS have yet been signed.

And several other hospital trusts are making similar fact finding visits to Austria.

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