Bosses at the Royal London hospital have sparked anger with plans to create a private patient wing rather than using the space to open more NHS beds.
They are assessing whether developing the unoccupied 15th floor of the £650m PFI hospital for private patients could generate income to help reduce soaring debts at its parent trust, Barts Health – currently the largest in the NHS at £93 million.
Campaigners say the proposals are the latest example of the “privatisation” of the NHS and of the “crippling” impact of a £1.1 billion PFI repayments on the finances of Britain’s biggest trust.
Confirmation of the plans came as the Barts board last week expressed regret at a shortage of high-dependency beds at the Royal London. Patients have complained about the postponement of planned surgery due to the lack of recuperation beds. In addition, 26 wards across the trust’s six east London hospitals have recently had to close beds due to a shortage of nurses.
Dr Ron Singer, chairman of Newham Save Our NHS, told the Standard: “The complicated situation at Barts Health, particularly the new PFI building, is merely an example of chaos that is running through the whole of the NHS at the moment.
“Trusts are in danger of losing their dignity by having to scrabble around for money to keep basic NHS services running. Taxpayers’ money that is going into the Royal London hospital is being wasted in the sense that the building is not being used to capacity at a time when patients need more beds.”
The Royal London, in Whitechapel, which opened in 2012, and new cardiac and cancer centres at St Bartholomew’s hospital, in Smithfield, are being rebuilt under a £1.1 billion private finance initiative deal that will cost the trust a total of £7.1 billion, with annual repayments rising from £113 million to £274 million by 2048.
Sources at Barts said the trust was keen to explore whether it could follow other London trusts in generating income from private patients. The poor state of the former Royal London hospital meant its private care was negligible.
The Health and Social Care Act allows NHS trusts to generate up to 49 per cent of their income from private patients. Chelsea and Westminster makes about £13 million a year, the Royal Brompton £33.6 million and UCLH £10.3 million.
Outgoing Barts Health chief executive Peter Morris confirmed the trust was “exploring the possibilities around private practice” both at the Royal London and at St Bartholomew’s.
There are also plans to convert the 14th floor at the Royal London – which has also remained an “empty shell” since the new hospital opened – into a centre for income-generating clinical trials in partnership with its academic partner, Queen Mary, University of London.
Mr Morris said: “We are keen to drive revenues through that space but in a way that is consistent with an academic health institution and teaching hospital, and in a way that in five, 10, 15 years can easily convert back into NHS use if our successors require.”