Private hospitals can do emergency care

In Britain it is sometimes said, “Oh well, it’s true that you can get good care in a private hospital but if it comes to an emergency, then you need to go to an NHS hospital” or perhaps, “private hospitals can deal with something simple, but once it gets a bit complicated, then you get transferred to an NHS hospital”.

There is plenty of truth in this but it is rather misleading. The hidden implication is usually that there is something magical about emergency care which the private sector, due to some unspecified failing, is unable to do. It is as if the NHS had some special quality or magic which enabled it to do something that the private sector inherently cannot manage.

I do not know the full reasons why UK private hospitals do not do real emergency care – though I suspect that lack of scale is an important one. Private hospitals in Britain are quite small. But what is clear is this: private hospitals can and do succeed in offering emergency care. On Saturday I visited a Seventh Day Adventist private hospital amid the tranquil suburbs of Sydney. It is known locally as ‘the San’. It certainly has an emergency department (as it is called). When I called, I asked the receptionist where the patients were? She said they had been taken inside. A TV screen informed me -this is from memory so the numbers may be a little out – that 33 of them had been seen by a doctor and three were waiting  to see a doctor.

Ah yes, but what sort of things could they handle?  The receptionist admitted that the hospital did not have a gamma knife. I confess that I had not even heard of a gamma knife before but it appears to be used for dealing with tumours and certain other conditions. I wonder, incidentally, how many NHS hospitals have one? The hospital in the suburbs does,  however have a 64 slice CT scanner and an MRI scanner. It specialises in cardiac treatment certainly including angiograms and stents and only falling short of doing full heart transplants.

The hospital is rated sufficiently highly in its capacity to deal with emergencies that only the most serious events will not go there. Hospital emergency departments are rated in Australia and this hospital can deal with anything up to and including the second highest category of traumas. Indeed she said that if a serious emergency within its capacity is picked up nearby, the ambulance is legally obliged to take the patient to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital rather than go on to a state hospital. This is presumably because saving the life of the patient is the priority in an emergency.

There are between four and eight doctors on duty in the emergency department at any one time. People often go there rather than to the state hospitals because the waiting in some of the state hospitals can be very long. But she said there is often waiting at this private hospital too. Perhaps because of this, the hospital is expanding its overall size, adding an extra 180 beds to the existing total of 400.

There is no magic about emergency care that only government hospitals can do. Private hospitals can and do manage it too.




  1. Dealing with the argument that the private sector is incapable fo providing emergency care
  2. Private emergency healthcare apparently growing in Australia
  3. Government to contract out NHS hospitals to the private sector
  4. BBC tries to imply that private hospitals have equally low standards of cleanliness as NHS ones.
  5. Care for the elderly in NHS hospitals
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