Sulis Hospital in Bath – previously Circle Bath Hospital – is the first private hospital in the UK where 100% of the shares are owned by an NHS Trust. The acquisition by the RUH NHS Foundation Trust has grown the hospital’s services, increasing capacity for both NHS and private patients. Emma Clegg talks to Hospital Director Simon Milner
Q. What was the idea behind this acquisition? A private hospital acquired by an NHS Trust is an apparent dichotomy. However, when you pick it apart it makes absolute sense, and it benefits everyone in the local community. We ensure capacity for NHS patients by ring-fencing space throughout the year, and in particular when demands for urgent care at the Royal United Hospital are high, especially during the winter months. We also provide a strong presence for private healthcare in Bath giving patients choice. Surplus income from the care of private patients at Sulis Hospital goes back into the pockets of our local NHS Trust helping improve services for everyone locally. Everyone benefits from the same high-level of clinical care.
Q. How is it hospitals like the Sulis Hospital are able to relieve the pressure on the NHS system? What’s key here is that beds at Sulis Hospital cannot be taken away for emergency care, therefore guaranteeing space for elective care such as hip surgery, cataract surgery or general surgery. With the social care system under so much stress, capacity issues can mean the pressure on beds in large NHS hospitals is huge. Sulis Hospital is physically distanced from the RUH so we’re not directly affected by the same capacity issues and can continue to see and treat private and NHS patients.
Q. Can you tell what impact the Sulis Hospital has had on NHS waiting times in our region in the last year? Given the demands on the system at the moment, we took a conscious decision in conjunction with the Clinical Commissioning Groups to take our fair share of patients waiting for two years or more. We have seen over 1,100 patients from six NHS Trusts across the region over the last 12 months. Our priority now is to assist patients waiting over 78 weeks and continue to treat the patients coming to us through NHS eReferrals (Choose and Book).
Q. The hospital’s private work funds its operation, and needs to be continued, so how has the switch to NHS ownership resulted in extra capacity for the trust? Private work is core to funding Sulis Hospital and remains our key focus. However collaboration with the NHS Trust through ownership means that we’ve been able to dedicate extra capacity to the RUH.
Q. How does the hospital keep the right balance between treating private patients and those who have been on NHS waiting lists? How do you manage your capacity? Choosing private healthcare gives patients rapid access to treatment and at the same time, by coming off an NHS waiting list, reduces the time others unable to go privately, have to wait. We have capacity for both private and NHS patients and are committed to providing the same outstanding level of care to everyone.
Q. Because of the increase in waiting times caused by the pandemic, has there also been an increase in private patients at Sulis Hospital by patients frustrated by the long wait? Yes, we’ve seen a significant increase in private patients due to long waits. Rapid access to diagnostic consultations and appointments with world-class experts here at Sulis Hospital has given patients reassurance in their clinical pathways and direct access to private treatment. Patients can opt to spread the cost of their treatment with various payment plans.
Q. What is the range of treatments that the hospital offers? We offer a broad range of treatments from Cardiology to Ophthalmology and Orthopaedics to General Surgery for over 18s. We also offer Private GP Services and Physiotherapy with direct access to advanced diagnostics including MRI, CT, X-ray, Ultrasound and Endoscopy.
Q. Having treated or operated on an NHS patient, does the Sulis Hospital continue to deal with that patient in their aftercare and treatment, or are they returned to the standard NHS system? We are committed to our contractual obligations under the NHS tariff by providing appropriate aftercare such as physiotherapy, and integration with our NHS community colleagues when required, such as GP or community care.
Q. What have been the advantages of this new model? The new model has given us the opportunity to integrate RUH best practice and governance with Sulis’s best practice and governance, all of which has enhanced the service at Sulis Hospital. It has been refreshing for us to see how the RUH has identified some areas in which Sulis excels, and has chosen to adopt.
Q. Were you able to maintain the majority of your consultant and medical practitioner workforce after the takeover? Consultants love that the revenue generated for the hospital goes back to the NHS as they want to give something back. We’ve attracted more clinicians because of the model and increased the number of employees overall.
Q.How close is the collaboration of NHS staff and Sulis staff at the hospital, and does this work smoothly? At consultant level it is seamless. We’re giving staff the opportunity to rotate between the two hospitals and we’re working towards an even more integrated approach at every level.