WORRYING questions have been raised over NHS Trusts using private healthcare providers to clear waiting lists following a leaked report which has claimed dozens of eye surgery operations were rushed and of a poor standard at a UK hospital.

The Guardian newspaper has revealed that a private company agreed to perform 20 cataract operations on patients a day to clear a backlog at Musgrove Park hospital in Somerset, in a bid to meet Government waiting list rules.

However, that was at least six times more operations a day than the hospital’s own surgeons would usually carry out – with a combination of staff, equipment and facilities which had never been tried before.

The report, seen by the Guardian and apparently marked “strictly confidential: not to be disclosed to any other party”, says that despite it being clear that patients were suffering complications, procedures continued.

By the time operations at the Taunton hospital were stopped, 62 patients had undergone surgery, and of them, only 25 had a “normal recovery”. The report says the complications reported were ten times the number that might have been expected from the surgery.

Among those complications were burns caused by the machine used to break up cataract and loss of iris pigment, some patients being left with microscopic metallic fragments in their eye and others left needing further surgery because cataract fragments were left in their eyes.

This report certainly paints a frightening picture of the arrangements made between NHS hospitals and private healthcare providers – and in this case one where the standard of patient care doesn’t appear to have been any kind of priority.

Indeed, the report states that Musgrove Park drew up a contract with the global health giant Vanguard Healthcare Solutions, which in turn sub-contracted the provision of surgeons and equipment to another private company, which in turn sub-contracted the provision of some equipment to a third company. It is hardly surprising that there were major problems during surgery as a result.

NHS Hospitals have of course been encouraged by the Government to treat some patients privately for some time now as a way of generating extra cash and cutting waiting lists, but carrying out surgery on a conveyor belt system will only ever lead to a fall in standards of care.

As experts in dealing with cases involving medical negligence, we at Neil Hudgell Solicitors welcomed the government’s commitment to becoming more open about mistakes made in the NHS following the Mid Staffs hospital scandal.

Greater transparency across the board, and a willingness to accept and fully address issues of poor medical care is the first step towards implementing new procedures and polices across the UK to bring about improvements in NHS care.

The decision not to publish this report – marking it strictly confidential and not to be disclosed to any other party – sadly suggests there is still some way to go before that is achieved.

It begs the question, how many more hospitals are using desperate measures to cut waiting lists and meet targets, at the expense of patient care?