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Tag Archives: NHS

Taxpayer-funded drugs ‘too expensive for patients’

Pharmaceuticals on tableImage copyright iStock

Taxpayer-funded medical research is producing medicines which are increasingly unaffordable for patients who need them, says a new report.

Campaigners claim that the NHS spent more than £1bn on drugs developed from publically funded research in 2016.

But the UK pharmaceutical industry said the main driver of price was the value of drugs to patients.

A government spokesperson said: “We want the UK to continue to be a global leader in research and development.”

They added that the government was committed to ensuring patients could access the effective medicines they needed, at a price that represented value for the NHS and for taxpayers.

A new report, seen by 5 live Investigates, claims that UK taxpayers and patients worldwide are being denied the medicines they need, despite the public sector playing a pivotal role in the discovery of new medicines.

‘Unsustainable’ high prices

The report, published by campaign groups Global Justice Now and Stop Aids, says that even when the government has part-funded the research and development, there is no guarantee that patients will be able to access the medicines at an affordable price.

It says: “In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first through investing in R&D, and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company.”

It claims the high prices of new medicines are “unsustainable for an already underfunded NHS”.

Industry representatives counter that the situation is not that straightforward.

They say that turning scientific discoveries into medicines takes years of scientific trials and costs billions of pounds, and the process is risky, so not every drug they test will make it to market.

However, campaigners say drug companies are generating huge private profits from public funds.

Image copyright Emma Robertson
Image caption Emma believes drug companies should reduce the price of cancer drugs

‘Serious questions’

Emma Robertson, 35, has incurable breast cancer and is taking the drug, palbociclib.

This drug was originally developed using work carried out by publicly funded Cancer Research UK scientists in the 1980s, for which they won the 2011 Nobel Prize.

In February, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) made a provisional decision not to recommend the drug because the cost was too high in relation to its potential benefits.

However Ms Robertson is receiving the drug through a free trial provided by the drug company Pfizer.

A full course of treatment with palbociclib costs £79,650, which campaigners say means the manufacturer is vastly overpricing the drug.

They claim it could be made and sold for a profit for £1 per pill, but say in fact it is currently sold for 140 times more.

“Pfizer needs to dramatically reduce the price that it wants to charge for this drug,” Ms Robertson says.

“We need to be asking some really serious questions about how drugs are researched and developed,” she adds.

Pfizer denied the drug costs £1 per pill.

It told the BBC that it took more than 20 years to build on the work of the Cancer Research UK scientists.

Turning scientific discoveries into medicines takes “billions of pounds of investment, millions of hours of science and thousands of clinical trials,” the firm explained.

There are around 45,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer each year in England.

Meanwhile, health bosses estimate that around 5,500 people in England would be eligible for treatment with palbociclib.

‘Complete myth’

Richard Sullivan, professor of cancer and global health at Kings College London, said that while some drug companies price their drugs correctly, others “vastly overprice” their drugs.

“Many of these drugs are extremely profitable”, he said, “but there is absolutely no link between the price set and with the returns on the research – it’s a complete myth.”

“When a drug is refused by Nice there’s only one reason it’s refused – the company has knowingly overpriced the drug.”

Professor Sullivan told the BBC that the public sector had contributed anywhere between “30% and up to 90% of the overall research intellectual input” in the development of drugs.

“The public sector is essential for developing new medicines for cancer patients,” he added.

The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry responded by saying that the suggestion that companies intentionally overpriced drugs “doesn’t make sense” because their overall objective is to ensure that the drugs are approved by Nice and then used by patients.

Controversy

In 2015, the UK government spent £2.3bn on health research and development and the relationship been public funding and profits is complex.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to reform the system and that research and development should not be linked to sales revenue.

Instead, campaigners argue, companies should be rewarded for their research in exchange for limiting the price of drugs.

However the pharmaceutical industry says it provides thousands of jobs and the current system is crucial to encouraging drug development.


5 live Investigates is broadcast on Sunday 22nd October 2017 at 11am BST. If you’ve missed it you can catch up on the iPlayer.

Have you got something you want investigating? We want to hear from you.

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Diarrhoea and vomiting bug forces three hospital wards in Bradford to close to new patients

Three hospital wards are shut to new patients because of a winter bug outbreak.

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has shut one its intermediate care wards at St Luke’s Hospital and one at each of its community hospitals at Westbourne Green, in Heaton Road, and Westwood Park, off Cooper Lane.

In total, the situation affects five beds that could have been taken by new patients.

Patients at Westbourne Green have been moved into side rooms with a view to reopening the ward on Monday.

The Hospital Trust is asking hospital visitors to help keep its other wards free of the diarrhoea and vomiting bug, known as Norovirus, this autumn and winter.

This week, Public Health England (PHE) issued a warning about the bug as the virus usually peaks in the winter months and. Levels of the infection are at expected levels for the moment, said a PHE spokesman.

The virus can cause sudden nausea, projectile vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

All hospital visitors, including those to Bradford Royal Infirmary, are being asked to take extra care with hygiene and remember to wash their hands thoroughly when entering and leaving the hospitals and to use the alcohol gel provided at ward and department entrances and exits.

The Trust’s chief nurse Sally Scales said: “We are asking the public to reduce the spread of these infections by not coming into hospitals to visit relatives and friends when they themselves are unwell. Anyone suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea should stay away from visiting the hospital until at least 48 hours after the end of their symptoms.

“We also advise that young children are not brought into hospital to visit relatives at this time as children can be carrying the illness but we also don’t want them to be exposed to these infections.”

She added: “Most people can manage the symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting at home or with simple, over-the-counter remedies and do not need to go to A&E. If people think they need urgent advice and treatment when their GP surgery is closed, they should ring their GP number and they will be transferred to the out-of-hours service.”

Alternatively people can call NHS 111 for fast medical advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.

10 fines at the dentist

dentalImage copyright PA

When dentists warned that tens of thousands of people were being unfairly fined £100 after a visit to the surgery – it prompted a big response from the audience.

They described their distress at getting mistakenly caught up in a system of penalties intended to catch fraudsters getting free treatment.

They talked of their confusion over forms and complained that fines had been applied without adequate checks.

The NHS Business Services Authority is looking for ways to improve information and simplify forms.


“I am most distraught because I received a penalty charge notice two days ago. I have worked most of my life and paid my NHS contributions. After suffering from breast cancer, the aftercare treatment had a horrendous effect on me, especially on my teeth. So I contacted the emergency dentist and on arrival I was asked for my NHS exempt card, which I provided.

“I received one filling – and weeks later the penalty charge notice came through the door. I am being fined £100.

“As I am on a low income and could not afford to pay the fine, I have been given the option to pay over a period of months. I am upset to the extreme to have received this fine.”


“The same thing happened to my son a couple of months ago. My son is a vulnerable adult with Asperger’s syndrome. He was sent a letter saying he had claimed exemption, but in fact we had paid for his dental care in full.

“I had to copy my receipts for the payment and go to the dentist’s surgery to get a confirmation receipt as well as writing a cover letter.

“What a waste of time and resources for all concerned. Fortunately the penalty was withdrawn, but there was no hint of an apology in the letter for the stress and worry their mistake had caused.”


“I no longer go to the dentist after receiving three penalty notices of £100 – the last two after already providing the evidence required. Normal citizens being treated as fraudsters has become normalised.”


“This happened to my sister. She has a learning disability and completed the same form she had always completed, saying that she received a disability benefit and was entitled to free treatment.

“She subsequently received the £100 fine and, not understanding why this had been received, she asked me to investigate.

“I wrote to the chief executive of the NHS agency expressing how immoral and badly managed the system was – running the risk that it would discourage people from looking after their health.

“I pointed out that it penalised the most vulnerable people in society and ultimately me – as I had to pay the fine and waste time working out what had gone on. I received a reply explaining that they were unable to correspond with me, even though they accepted my cheque.”


“My daughter is severely disabled and wheelchair bound. She has full time carers, but I handle all her paperwork. She is in receipt of the higher rate disability living allowance and enhanced employment support allowance (EESA).

“On her last trip to the dentist, they asked me again what was her entitlement to free treatment and I ticked the box for EESA. What I had failed to understand was that there are two types of EESA and only one type gives entitlement to free dentist care.

“Several weeks later, we received a penalty notice informing us of a fine of £100 plus the original dental costs of over £50.

“How could I have checked something that I didn’t know about? There is no way she could have paid the penalty out of her benefits, so I had to.”


“I am all for abusers being made to pay for NHS services when not eligible.

“But an honest mistake filling out a simple form at a dental surgery should have some flexibility or subsequent appeal or checks, so as not to penalise people in such a harsh manner.”


“My adult dependent son has just been fined £100 because nobody knew what box to tick at the dentist.

“The receptionist was extremely unhelpful, and I paid for the treatment (a check-up). I then rang the NHS refund helpline, and they told me I should have ticked a particular box, despite the receptionist arguing against it.

Image caption Dentist Charlotte Waite says it is distressing when so many wrong fines are being issued

“After telling my dentist practice manager what the NHS helpline had said, I was refunded my money.

“My son then received a letter fining him £100, despite having no income and being aged 19 and still in full-time further education.

“How are patients supposed to navigate a system that is faulty? I have appealed and refused to pay the fine.”


“I feel disgusted and embarrassed. I have been assumed as a fraud by the dentist and the NHS – due to them not, maybe, checking their paperwork, not asking me. It doesn’t just affect vulnerable people.”


“My wife has a severe brain trauma injury, which impacts on her mental capacity to understand simple issues.

“She commenced dental treatment at our NHS dental surgery and afterwards received a bill for £ 244 together with a £100 fine. I immediately responded, in sheer panic. I refused to pay the fine as she had done nothing wrong.

“The question was asked by the dentist if she was receiving benefits. What about employment support allowance (ESA)? Yes, she is in receipt of ESA. In that case your dental treatment will be free. It transpires that there are two types of ESA, and my wife’s does not entitle her to free dental treatment.

“I received a call from a debt-recovery company, giving me an additional 30 days to provide medical evidence of my wife’s brain injury.

“Regardless, we will not be paying this fine and if necessary will defend this in court.

“My wife together with all her other issues is aware of an impending fine but doesn’t quite understand why. This in my opinion is sheer bullying tactics and these people must be challenged.

“It’s having a severe impact on my wife and I. This matter is really taking its toll.”


“I am now reluctant to arrange any more appointments having lost my job two months ago and not being in the position to risk getting fined again. The system is obviously flawed.”


The NHS Business Services Authority says: “We continually review our data-matching process and make improvements where possible.

“We’re also working with various partner organisations to educate patients and healthcare professionals on the rules around eligibility for free dental treatment, to reduce the number of incorrect claims caused by confusion or lack of awareness.”

For anyone with concerns about fines or wanting information about free dental treatment there is a helpline 0300 330 1293.

An online checking tool is available and there is more online information about eligibility for free dental treatment.

Women ‘deserve apology’ over vaginal mesh implants

Reporter holding up a surgical mesh
Image caption The mesh is made of polypropolene and surgeons routinely use it in hernia repair

Women left in permanent pain and unable to walk, work or have sex because of vaginal mesh implants deserve an apology, a senior MP has said.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the health committee, said some claim they did not consent to having the device fitted and were unaware of the risks.

MPs also called for an inquiry into the implants which are used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence.

The medicines regulator says most women have a positive experience with them.

Earlier this year, the BBC‘s Victoria Derbyshire programme revealed that more than 800 women were taking legal action against the NHS and the makers of vaginal mesh implants.

The implants, usually made from synthetic polypropylene, are intended to repair damaged or weakened tissue.

While they have been used successfully in many other parts of the body, they appear to react differently when inserted in the abdomen, leading to some women being “cut” – and once problematic, they can be very difficult, sometimes impossible, to remove.

‘Cavalier practice’

In a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, Conservative MP and GP Dr Wollaston said there were “very clear failings” that had been “allowed to continue for so long and at the heart of that it has been the inadequacy of clinical trials, recording and consent”.

She said mesh should be retained as an option where alternative procedures may result in worse outcomes or complications.

But she said there had to be a guarantee that “proper” clinical trials would be carried out as the products had been introduced and marketed “aggressively” without “adequate” trials.

“Fundamentally, at the heart of this is, there’s an absence of data, and I’m afraid there’s been cavalier practice.

“We cannot allow this to continue in the future and I think the women who have been affected deserve an apology, they deserve recognition of the extent of this and the delays in which this has been recognised and has been taken forward.”

Calling for a full public inquiry, Labour’s Emma Hardy urged the government to suspend operations using the implants while a “full retrospective and mandatory audit of all interventions using mesh” was carried out.

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‘Like a cheese grater’

More than a hundred campaigners demonstrated outside Parliament during the debate.

Among them was Stephanie Williams who had a mesh implant in June. She said she was not told she was going to have one until an hour before her hysterectomy.

She told the BBC she now cannot work and is in constant pain.

“It has just devastated everything,” she said.

Her husband Peter said: “It’s like having a cheese grater inserted into your vagina.

“We’ve been together 40 years and we have not been intimate since the operation and that’s going to happen until it’s removed.”

Ms Hardy said “thousands” of women had been adversely affected by mesh implants.

“We know these devices are regulated by the European Union – I hope the minister will make a comment on how the government proposes to take this forward after we leave the European Union, and at the heart of it to ensure the safety of women is prioritised,” she added.

Image caption Mesh implants are used to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence

Paul Masterton, Conservative MP for East Renfrewshire, said his party in Scotland – with Labour – had “stood firmly behind ” those affected.

“Please suspend this procedure – if you’re not convinced enough evidence is there, suspend it while you gather it together,” he said.

“Mesh is rapidly becoming one of the great global health scandals and I’d implore all of us in this place to do what we can to protect women from this potentially devastating procedure, and to ensure our nation becomes an example to others in how to achieve justice for all those who have been broken by mesh.”

The Labour MP for Alyn and Deeside, Mark Tami, spoke about a constituent’s suffering and called it a “national scandal”.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has previously said it was “committed to help address the serious concerns raised by some patients”.

Shipley company creates an extra 100 jobs

A SHIPLEY-based company which supplies GP practices with pharmacists is creating an extra 100 jobs nationwide as part of its expansion.

Prescribing Support Services (PSS), which moved into a new office in Pegasus House, Otley Road, earlier this year, plans to boost its workforce of pharmacists in the next 12 months.

It is expanding to meet demand as the NHS looks for different ways to support patients.

PSS is the largest employer of primary care pharmacists in the UK and is recruiting to meet demand. It employs 150 people in a mixture of directly employed and contract roles.

The firm provides a fully managed pharmacist-led service which supports 250 practices across the UK with a cost-effective way to help meet patient workloads and manage medicine-related activity.

Set up in 2000 by Dr Duncan Petty, it has worked with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and medical practices to implement an evidence-based approach to achieving the best outcomes from the investment in medicines.

PSS provides a range of clinical services to the NHS including anti-coagulation services, diabetes care and services for patients including discharge management and care home audit services.

Mo Nazir, PSS chief executive, said: “We have grown tenfold in recent years and now support 250 GP practices around the UK.

“Our model allows GPs to use our pharmacists to provide flexible patient support and manage the medicine service. We support a more flexible and efficient patient-focused service.

“We have significant growth plans and believe this business can grow tenfold again in the coming years.

“Hentons support us on this journey with accountancy and tax planning support that has helped to free up cash that fuels our expansion.”

Hentons, a chartered accountancy firm, operates a large specialist medical team that supports hundreds of GPs and associated businesses.

Simon Gray, partner at Hentons, said: “PSS is a real innovator in its sector. The NHS is looking for ways to work more flexibly and efficiently, and PSS has created a patient-focused model that meets this requirement.”

PSS has provided care home medication review services since 2009 across the UK including Bradford, Airedale, Leicester, Leeds and Hampshire.

Pre-sex HIV drug ‘no-brainer” for NHS

Gay menImage copyright Getty Images

A drug to dramatically cut the risk of HIV infection during sex would save the UK around £1bn over the next 80 years, say scientists.

The team at University College London says Prep, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a “no-brainer” for the NHS.

The study predicts that giving Prep to men who have sex with men would prevent one in four HIV cases.

NHS England is currently funding a trial of Prep in 10,000 patients, but does not offer the treatment routinely.

Prep is already available in Scotland. The health service in England fought against paying for Prep in the courts, but agreed to trialling it in selected clinics.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow taking pre-exposure drugs revolutionised one gay man‘s relationship with sex

Preventive pills

Prep disables HIV before it gets a stranglehold in the body and trials show it can cut the risk of being infected by up to 86%.

The financial analysis, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, looked at the cost-effectiveness of a national roll-out of Prep, focusing on the highest risk group – men who have sex with men.

It showed offering Prep would cost the NHS money initially as it paid for both Prep and lifelong care for people already infected with HIV.

It could take up to 40 years to become cost-effective, when savings from the falling number of new HIV cases equal the cost of Prep.

Eventually, after 80 years, the pills would deliver a saving of £1bn, say the researchers.

Dr Alison Rodger, part of the UCL team, told the BBC: “Not only is it a highly effective treatment, it will save money. It’s a no-brainer so it’s a good thing to do.”

Image copyright Getty Images

The researchers’ mathematical model predicted:

  • In the first year Prep was available, 4,000 men would start taking it, rising to 40,000 within 15 years
  • Men would take Prep for 4.5 years on average
  • Men would take two pills before sex, followed by one-a-day until they had gone two days without condom-less sex
  • Men would average five pills a week

It is still cost-effective with a daily Prep pill, but it takes longer to become cost-effective. Both options are being investigated as part of the NHS England trial.

The other major unknown is the long-term cost of the drugs, which may fall as cheaper alternatives become available.

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is important that all who need Prep can access it, and evidence like this reinforces the need for Prep to be fully commissioned and given a long-term, sustainable home on the NHS in England.”

Dr Paul Revill, from the centre of health economics at the University of York, said the NHS needed to be “far sighted [and] invest now and reap long-term gains”.

He added: “With a combination of frequent HIV testing, immediate treatment, and Prep availability, there is now the prospect of bending the curve of new HIV infections downwards in a way that did not seem feasible just a few years ago.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The Lancet study makes an important contribution to the growing evidence for cost effectiveness of PrEP, highlighting the factors which will determine this, such as price and duration on PrEP.”

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NI Waiting lists: Delays mean patient feels like ‘prisoner in own house’

A woman who has been waiting for NHS treatment says she feels like a prisoner in her own home.

Lucia Pollock was told she would have to wait ‘for at least three years’ for a knee operation.

Northern Ireland’s Health Service is failing to meet key waiting time targets, and in some areas, its performance is the worst in the UK. Read more here

NHS surgery waits run into years in Northern Ireland

Megan's mum, Karen
Image caption Megan’s mum Karen says she is considering paying privately for her daughter’s operation

Patients in Northern Ireland are waiting three years to see a consultant about having surgery following a GP referral.

The BBC has obtained exclusive figures showing long waiting times before a decision to operate.

In Northern Ireland, targets say most patients should be seen within 9 weeks and none should wait over 15 weeks.

Yet some patients are waiting 155 weeks or more to see a specialist for spinal conditions.

A spokesman for the Health and Social Care board said it was ‘unacceptable’ that waiting lists had grown so long.

Longer and longer waits

The health service has not met the targets for several years.

Figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests in April this year and seen by the BBC show that in one of Northern Ireland’s five healthcare trusts, the minimum waiting time for an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant specialising in spinal conditions was 155 weeks.

For upper limb conditions, the minimum wait was 127 weeks.

By June, waits for spinal appointments at the same trust had risen to 159 weeks.

Megan’s story

Megan Fleming, who is 14 years old, needs an urgent operation to correct a curvature, or scoliosis, of her spine.

Image caption Megan Fleming needs surgery to help straighten her spine

Her health is deteriorating fast, and she has trouble breathing. Despite her condition, the teenager from Carrickfergus continues to go to dance classes, but says her future is on hold until her operation, which surgeons have told her will be a year away.

Her mother Karen said: “Megan loves dancing. It’s just her life at the minute. She just wants to dance.

“But at the minute she needs the surgery to help her. You could see the consultant was absolutely gutted and you could see it was hurting to say a year, but it’s out of his control.

“I’ve paid taxes, I’ve paid national insurance. So why can’t I get the surgery that she deserves?”

Megan and Karen are now trying to raise the £50,000 that her surgery will cost privately, fearing that the long wait will put Megan’s long-term health at risk.

Image copyright Megan Fleming
Image caption Megan has a condition called scoliosis which means her spine is curved

Dr Ursula Brennan, a GP in Belfast, said that seeking private healthcare was a decision more and more patients were having to make in the current climate.

“You’re going to have to wait, and it may be several months. It may be into 52 weeks, or 80 weeks, or beyond.

“It’s very difficult to turn this conversation to – and these are our elderly folk – that you may have to use your life savings to actually improve your quality of life.”

When asked about the long waits, which are far higher than in other parts of the UK, the deputy chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Michael Bloomfield, said: “That is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s why we need to clearly illustrate the need for reform.

“There are about 35,000 more surgical procedures required than the health service currently has capacity for.

“Without the additional funding to see those patients or have them treated in different ways, it is regrettably inevitable that waiting times will increase to the position that they are now in.”

Political vacuum

The political commentator Deirdre Heenan is working on a report with the Nuffield Trust into the emerging healthcare crisis in Northern Ireland.

She said: “In the last nine months we’ve had no government in Northern Ireland. We’re in a political vacuum.

“This system reverts to keeping the show on the road, and any ideas about transformation or change are simply mothballed.”

In a blog co-authored with health economist John Appleby, she writes: “There is a difficult backdrop: austerity, increasing demand, rising expectations, and political uncertainty.

“It is not clear that the public are in a position to call for change. They may not have good information about how well the service meets their needs, and have not necessarily been made part of the long conversations about change, which as a result can sound like it brings bad news.

“But the impact on patients of the current impasse in implementing necessary changes is stark. In June this year, for example, one in six of the entire Northern Ireland population was currently on an outpatient or inpatient waiting list. In England the figure is one in 14.

“And over 64,000 people had been waiting over a year for their first outpatient appointment – a quarter of all those on the waiting list. In England, by contrast, around 1,500 people were still waiting over a year – just 2 per cent of the number in Northern Ireland for a population over 30 times larger.”

On Wednesday, the BBC will be publishing its NHS tracker, which allows users to look at how their local hospitals are performing on waiting times for A&E, cancer and planned operations.

Missing data ‘may put private patients at risk’

Drip with surgeons in background

Patients may be being put at risk by the failure of private hospitals to report serious incidents, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has warned.

A BBC Panorama investigation found private hospitals are not reporting enough data on patient outcomes.

This means the private sector “cannot be as robust or as safe as the NHS”, RCS president Derek Alderson said.

The government says new guidelines will lead to tougher enforcement action against failing clinics.

The concerns, raised by the RCS, are focused on reporting serious incidents and so-called “never events” – extreme mistakes that should never happen.

These are not reported to national databases in a consistent way or at all, the RCS said.

It also warned that clinical audit data is lacking from the private sector, such as not submitting datasets on the outcomes of cancer surgery, despite undertaking many cancer procedures.

‘Not good enough’

Mr Alderson said: “We don’t know exactly what’s going on in the private sector.

“It cannot be as robust or as safe as the NHS at the moment for the simple reason that you do not have complete reporting of all patients who are treated.

“It’s not good enough. Things have to change,” he said.

The RCS also points to gaps in reporting on cosmetic surgery, where there is no dataset on the total number of operations.

Much of the private healthcare industry accepts there is a problem with data and transparency.

Brian O’Connor, of the Independent Doctors Federation, said: “It’s up to private hospitals to raise their game and to show the data and the excellence of care, because there is nothing for them to hide.”

Mr O’Connor, whose organisation represents 1,200 private doctors, added: “Those private hospitals which don’t have the data and are not transparent should be closed or not be allowed to conduct complex medical procedures.”

Panorama heard from victims of rogue surgeon Ian Paterson, jailed for 20 years for intentionally wounding patients.

Although he was found to have harmed patients in the NHS, more than 700 people were harmed by him in private hospitals, including Beryl Parkes.

Paterson removed one of her breasts and she needed further operations to rectify his mistakes.

Ms Parkes said: “You believe a doctor, don’t you? They take oaths for people to do their best for them.”

But nobody was supervising Paterson.

And when Ms Parkes’s treatment was eventually reviewed, it turned out she should not have had any operations – because she did not have cancer in the first place.

“He should have got life,” she said. “And I think that’s too good for him, because it must have been basically all over money.”

Paterson’s supervisors at Spire Healthcare were criticised for failing to manage their high-earning surgeon.

The company told the BBC it is “truly sorry for the distress experienced by patients”.

Panorama also learned that some patients are unable to get compensation if they are harmed by a private surgeon.

The hospital might refuse to accept liability because the surgeon is an independent contractor with “practising privileges”.

Lawyer Suzanne White said: “Any patient that goes through a private hospital will assume that they will be covered, and they are simply not. That is astonishing.”

Patients may not be able to get compensation from the surgeon’s insurance company either, because if the insurer decides that the surgeon has broken the rules, they can refuse to cover them.

‘Totally reprehensible’

It is a rare gap in the system, but disastrous for patients.

Mr O’Connor responded: “To say a patient who has had wrong done to them is not going to get proper compensation is totally reprehensible.”

He wants the government and private health organisations to ensure patients are compensated properly.

Panorama has discovered a case where a patient who had been harmed was unable to get compensation from the private hospital or the surgeon responsible.

He successfully sued the NHS instead, because his first consultation was in an NHS hospital.

Even the lawyer who won the case thinks it was wrong that the NHS was forced to pay up.

Suzanne White said: “I feel entirely uncomfortable about it and very cross, because I see it quite often.

“Why is it that a private hospital that has a doctor who has given negligent care – and profited – does not compensate those patients?

“Why is it the NHS has to foot the bill?”

Image copyright Science Photo Library

Last year, more than 500,000 NHS patients were referred to private hospitals.

But the fastest growing area in the sector is self-pay, where people without insurance fund their own treatment to the tune of almost £900m annually.

Together, NHS referrals and self-pay patients make up nearly half the private health sector’s business.

‘Tougher enforcement’

The Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations said there is strong evidence that the independent sector is safe and patient safety is as much of a priority as it is for the NHS.

It said the Care Quality Commission has rated nearly 60% of private hospitals as either good or outstanding for safety.

The Department of Health said new standards have already set out clearer requirements for the delivery of safe care.

It said tougher enforcement action will be enabled against failing providers.

Cosmetic surgery clinics will now be rated by the CQC, and private hospitals must ensure ratings are displayed both within premises and online.

How safe is your operation? is on Monday at 20:30 BST on BBC One and available on iPlayer.

Hospitals in England to ban ‘super-size’ chocolate bars

A pile of chocolateImage copyright Science Photo Library

“Super-sized” chocolate bars are to be banished from hospital shops, canteens and vending machines, NHS England says.

Sweets and chocolate sold in hospitals should be 250 calories or under, the head of the body says.

Under the plans, most “grab bags” will be banned – with hospitals given a cash boost for facilitating the change.

The proposals would also see 75% of pre-packed sandwiches coming in at under 400 calories.

Pre-packed savoury meals and sandwiches must also contain no more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.

‘Obesity epidemic’

In April, NHS England said it would ban sugary drinks if hospital outlets did not cut down on the number they sell.

Mr Stevens said the NHS was “stepping up” to combat an issue that was causing “an epidemic of obesity, preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer”.

“In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors.”

NHS staff are also being targeted as part of the move to tackle unhealthy eating, including those on overnight shifts.

Public Health England says hospitals have an “important role” in addressing obesity and not just dealing with the consequences.