Shirley Oaks hospital, the NHS, and checking the small print

In Croydon, “GP-led commissioning” is already seeing NHS patients referred to profit-driven private hospitals, who use the opportunity to try to make even more money. This is a salutary lesson submitted by our loyal reader

A friend recently had her first experience of “GP-led commissioning” in the brave new world of the NHS according to Andrew Lansley. She was referred by her GP for an investigation. A couple of years ago she would have been given the choice of a selection of hospitals or, depending on the procedure, simply sent to “Croydon University” Hospital. This time she was rather surprised to be dispatched to the private Shirley Oaks Hospital.

A couple of weeks later she went to her GP for the results, which were thankfully fine and assumed that that was the end of it. She was therefore a little bemused to get a letter from Shirley Oaks a few days later summoning her to a follow-up appointment there at an unfeasible early hour the next Saturday morning.

It was accompanied by some small print hinting darkly that if you weren’t insured, you might need to pay a charge.

Now my friend wasn’t born yesterday, nor even the day before, so she gave them a ring. She was disgusted to find that yes, if she did go along she would have to pay a substantial fee and that it was Shirley Oaks’ standard practice to send out this sort of letter.

Not only is GP-led commissioning a means for the Tories’ friends in lucrative private healthcare to suck money out of the NHS, they’re also using it as a recruitment tool to generate even more profit.

Shirley Oaks Hospital: even if you are referred there by your NHS GP, make sure you keep a check for hidden extra charges

My friend’s visit to Shirley Oaks was not without incident. She suffers from an unrelated condition which can play her up in times of stress, and she did have difficulties while at Shirley Oaks. If she was in a normal NHS general hospital this would not have caused the slightest of problems, but it was more than Shirley Oaks could handle, so they sent her off to the Mayday to be checked out.

As her consultant later said, if you are cheap and easy to treat they’ll welcome you with open arms. But if anything expensive or tricky happens, they don’t want to know.

I wonder how many more NHS patients will be sent to inappropriate facilities and get sold services they don’t need before the Tories are finally rumbled and their plan to dismantle the NHS and privatise healthcare is abandoned once and for all?

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11 Responses to Shirley Oaks hospital, the NHS, and checking the small print

  1. I myself have had two operations at Shirley oaks one last year and another this year, I was very pleased with their services on both occasions, both times I had follow up appointment (several infact) not once did I pay or was there any mention of payment.

    The last op was for a bunion unfortunately two weeks after the operation, a door got opened onto it which resulted to me having to go to A&E at mayday where I had x-rays and was told I had fractured my toe that I had the op on. I called Shirley oaks and they saw me the next day to check it out all free of charge once again. As a result of this, I am going in next week to have this corrected which I am having on the NHS free of charge again.

    I work for a GP in Croydon and I actually book the choose and book appointments for our patients here, not one of them have had any complaints about Shirley oaks and always give me good feed back about the services there. I can’t believe that any one had to pay a single penny. To end this I must say that I am very pleased with every thing that Shirley oaks have done for me and would never have an operation again in an NHS HOSPITAL WHICH I HAVE IN THE PAST AND HAD VERY BAD EXPERIENCES!

    • The matter of Shirley Oaks hospital’s clinical care is not in question.

      Like many private hospitals, they often have better facilities and resources available, and can offer them more speedily on a commercial basis than is possible within the NHS system. That they concentrate on quick-turnround, day surgery procedures – like bunion operations – rather than longer term care, such as looking after stroke victims, for instance, is clearly part of their “business model”.

      Thus the NHS is still who we all depend upon in the case of long-term, on-going care for serious complaints.

      But what this article is about, Heidi, is the private hospital’s business practices, once they gain “access” to an NHS-referred patient.

      Of course, what we report here may be a one-off aberration. Let’s hope, for the NHS’s case, it is. But we doubt it.

  2. normanb123 says:

    I think the problem is cock up not conspiracy.

    This sounds like a template letter problem which would go to all private patients and basically covers their business if those rascals the insurance companies refused to pay (not that I have ever heard of an insurance company wriggling) and makes the patient liable to pay for any work done. While this is acceptable practice for private, it cannot by their contract with the NHS apply to NHS patients. The management need to sharpen up, crack out an NHS follow up template and train their staff to follow the protocol.

    These stories are scurrilous and harmful and they achieve absolutely nowt.

    • “These stories are scurrilous and harmful and they achieve absolutely nowt.”

      That’s a point of view, Norm.

      But do you have any evidence to disprove that it happened? No.

      What evidence do you have to support your theory? None whatsoever… “I think the problem is cock up not conspiracy,” you say.

      Doesn’t that render your comment somewhat “scurrilous” and designed to mislead?

      • normanb123 says:

        I have no agenda either way. It would be aberrant behaviour to risk an NHS contract by breaching conditions and getting a few quid off an NHS patient thus putting an income stream at risk.

        I fully accept the letter, whatever it said, would be unsettling for patients who had no expectation of paying (again they have already ‘paid’ for the NHS), and someone has put 2 and 2 together and made 5. I have worked long enough (too long!) in organisations to realise that unless you continually review and police your procedures AND train your team AND put quality checks in place then the propensity to make mistakes is legion – Oh sorry we have always done it this way is a common excuse. Further, in my experience most organisations are too dumb to carry out conspiracies (stand fast a media company under scrutiny at the moment) but most organisations are thoroughly competent in making mistakes.

        Anyway just my opinion, a sceptic of much loved conspiracy stories.

  3. But Norman, the only person to suggest a “conspiracy” was yourself, when you offered up the cock-up theory as an alternative.

    There is a third option: it could be a calculated, deliberate attempt to profit from a NHS patient. And how many NHS-referred patients, on receiving such a letter, would accept it, and cough up, unquestioningly?

    • badshelter says:

      How many NHS patients would “cough up, unquestioningly?” At a rough guess – none!

    • Hello again, Norman. Please take a look at the comment posted by the official from Shirley Oaks hospital below. You’ll note that he does not deny that the attempted charging of an NHS patient happened.

      Looking forward to receiving your apology for the accusation that the article is “scurrilous and harmful”.

  4. BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital has a long track record of working with GPs and the NHS under the Choose and Book scheme which allows everyone access to our services. We are committed to providing high quality services and this is reflected in the proud reputation the hospital holds both with the local NHS and in the wider community.

    To be absolutely clear NHS patients do not have to pay for treatment or for follow up consultations at Shirley Oaks Hospital. We can and do treat ‘unrelated conditions’ for NHS patients where it is appropriate for us to do so. However there will always be instances where a particular patient might need a specialist intervention that requires transfer to another hospital (eg where patients are suffering from long term illnesses that we might not routinely treat).

    We have a robust complaints system and if any patient is unhappy with any aspect of their treatment we would encourage them to contact the hospital or to write to the regulator the Care Quality Commission.

    John Hare, Executive Director of BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital in Croydon

    • This comment was in fact posted by someone called Richard Morgan, from the email address

      We have written to Mr Morgan, thanking his company for its interest in Inside Croydon.

      We noted that the comment does not seek to deny that Shirley Oaks private hospital sought payment for treatment from an NHS patient.

      We have asked Mr Morgan: “Would you care to offer an explanation for how this may have happened?”

  5. ndavies144 says:

    An interesting article here – – on how dreadfully another BMI Healthcare hospital behaves.

    The NHS shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money with this sort of outfit.

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