Kidney dialysis privatisation fears

MARK NICHOLLS Kidney patients voice fears that their treatment could be severely affected if plans to privatise dialysis services go ahead in the eastern region.

MARK NICHOLLS

Kidney patients have voiced fears that their treatment could be severely affected if plans to privatise dialysis services go ahead in the eastern region.

The EDP can reveal that the East of England Strategic Health Authority has been holding secret talks with private sector partners about plans to hand over control of kidney dialysis.

The authority says the plan is linked to patient demand and reducing waiting times.

But kidney patients are worried that taking dialysis out of direct NHS control could mean splitting the service across more satellite centres where there will be less expert medical support on hand in the event of an emergency.

It is understood the SHA is looking at privatising the service to comply with a controversial Department of Health remit that 15pc of elective services must be hived off to the independent health sector.

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Ron Brooks, who is a committee member for the United Norwich Kidney Patients Association (UNKPA), said: “We do have concerns about plans to privatise the service. At the moment everything is near to hand. We have got all the doctors, consultants and extra facilities we need close by and if people do collapse while on dialysis - which they do - doctors, defibrillators and everything is there.

“But if we split up into satellite units, we are concerned we will not have access to those services, which is worrying. We would rather everything be kept together under one roof.”

Mr Brooks, 67, from Dereham, has been undergoing dialysis three times a week for the past decade and is awaiting a kidney transplant. He receives his treatment at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

He explained that one reason why the service was moved to the new N&N from the former West Norwich Hospital site was that there was insufficient medical support available in an emergency.

“If there was a problem, doctors had to come out from the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital at that time,” he added. “That is why the service was moved to the new hospital so everything was there for us.”

UNKPA has not been asked for its views but is keen to be consulted on any planned change

“We do know something is happening and we would like more information but we cannot make any serious comment until we get more detail,” added Mr Brooks. “We have not heard anything from the hospital or anywhere official. But if the service is split up into satellite units, we will want reassurance that all the support we need will be there.”

Another dialysis patient, Peter Woodhouse of Norwich, said: “The service we get at the moment is first class. I cannot fault it. We do not really know what is planned as regards privatising the service but my view has to be if it's not broke, don't fix it.”

There are areas of care where there is not enough patient demand to be of interest to the private sector but one area where there is more demand than capacity is renal dialysis.

Last year Dr Alexander Heaton, a consultant in nephrology at the N&N, forecast that the number of people with kidney failure was likely to double in Norfolk over the next 10 years.

The N&N, which has the Jack Pryor Unit to treat patients with kidney problems, currently treats around 250 patients with dialysis but that is set to rise by up to 7pc a year.

N&N spokesman Andrew Stronach said: “This is not a proposal that could just affect the N&N but also units across the whole of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

“What it could mean, for example, is that while N&N staff may provide the service, the facilities may be provided by the private sector.”

In Norfolk there is renal dialysis at the N&N, Cromer Hospital and the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, but no services in the south of the county despite rising demand.

Mr Stronach said: “It is something that has been on the cards for about six months as an idea for the whole of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to have private dialysis provided by the private sector but it has not moved forward recently.”

It is understood that if the proposal were to be made seriously, the issue would have to go out to formal three-month public consultation.

The East of England SHA has confirmed it is exploring the possibility of procuring additional renal dialysis capacity through the private sector under the Department of Health's independent sector central clinical procurement programme.

A spokeswoman said: “We can also confirm that no final decision has been made about future providers of dialysis services and we don't expect any further information to be available until summer 2007.”

“The SHA is still at the discussion stage with partners and the details of the plan have not been finalised. It is at an early stage” added the spokeswoman who refused to give details of who the potential private partners were.