As we celebrate our 100th member joining, chief executive, David Hare, reflects on the growth and maturity of the independent healthcare sector in the UK which we represent – its key moments, successes and challenges – and looks to the future.
I realise that 100 is perhaps an arbitrary number to many, but as a lifelong cricket fan and batsman, there is a certain significance to reaching the magical three figures.
So, I hope readers will forgive me the indulgence of taking a moment to raise our bat and reflect on the organisation’s history and journey, and by extension, the wider successes and achievements of the independent health sector.
Independent Healthcare Providers Network came into being in 2020 in its current guise as a standalone legal entity, but for two years prior to that we existed (as IHPN) but within the NHS Confederation, having previously been the NHS Partners Network, and those who’ve been around will probably also remember the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO) which closed at around that time.
In the run up to 2020, we made the decision that it was best to forge our own path independently – a situation which was further galvanised at the end of 2020 when we announced our first independent chair, Lord Kamlesh Patel.
Kamlesh made a fantastic contribution to the organisation and the sector, and it was with sadness that we heard his decision to step down, but we’re delighted to have welcomed our first female chair, Seema Kennedy OBE, and I am confident she will take us to even greater heights.
Today, we have a team of 14, so we feel very much that we’re still a lean and agile setup, and I have to say I’m indebted to them for their hard work. Kamlesh said as he stepped down that we “punch well above our weight”. I would agree and my thanks are due to colleagues past and present who’ve got us to where we are. I’d also pay tribute to our members, who it is a pleasure to represent.
In broad terms, the organisation has played a key role in advocating for the interests of the independent sector, and has been successful in securing a number of policy changes that have benefited independent providers.
A changing marketplace
In many ways IHPN’s developments mirror those of the independent health sector itself. The sector has grown rapidly, and now accounts for over 10% of all NHS bed days. There were almost 2.25m acute patient journeys in 2022. 3.5m scans and tests done by independent providers in the last year. Independent providers have also been successful in expanding into new markets, such as mental health, social care, community health – on the latter, 42% of NHS providers are from the independent sector.
We’ve seen that diversification in our members (who now employ or contract more than 150,000 staff) too. We are very proud today to have a more diverse membership than ever before – whether that’s hospitals, community services, diagnostics, insourcing and mobile operators, insourcing, primary care – the list goes on.
One of our strengths I believe has been in adapting and welcoming members, and recognising the need for particular support, or where smaller groups of members or interested parties can get benefit from talking together, or sharing common goals. I still believe passionately in this, and feel strongly that we are definitely stronger united than divided.
Challenges and achievements
Nowhere has this power of collective working been more evident than in progressing vital work on quality and safety.
Everyone working in the sector will know that the Paterson scandal marked an important moment for everyone – it was, and still is, a reminder of the need for constant vigilance, for robust governance, and for us all to be uncompromising in the pursuit of excellence.
This means genuine engagement, sharing knowledge and best practice and recognising that this is not an area where collaboration, not competition is the best approach.
And it’s working. We were able to acknowledge another important milestone recently – over 90% independent hospitals have ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ overall ratings from the health and care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). That’s up from 70% in 2018. This is a strong indication that the general standards of care and patient safety in the private sector are higher than they have ever been.
Another collective achievement I think we can take great pride in is how we supported the NHS during the pandemic. Independent hospitals played a key role in ensuring the continuation of vital NHS care during the pandemic with the delivery of over 3.3 million NHS patient treatments.
Thousands of independent sector staff worked bravely and heroically alongside their NHS counterparts during a period of national crisis. What was achieved collectively under the national contract undoubtedly saved lives and helped contain the post-pandemic backlog which the NHS and independent sectors are now working together to bring down.
I reflected with colleagues recently following a meeting of the Government’s elective recovery taskforce I attended, that we have come a long way.
The entire notion of a taskforce, set up directly by the Prime Minister, with the explicit purpose of finding ways to maximise the contribution of the independent sector in tackling NHS backlogs, would have seemed utterly fanciful not that long ago.
Similarly, when I think about the polarised, shrill and often hysterical debate which usually surrounds private healthcare, it may just be a rose-tinted spectacle view, but I do detect a more positive, nuanced, and pragmatic tone of debate than I have heard for some years about the future of healthcare, and about the positive role of independent and private healthcare.
I had somewhat of an ‘Alice through the looking glass’ moment when I heard the reaction from Labour, effectively asking the Government ‘what took you so long?’ in respect of the taskforce, pointing back to Labour policies of the early 2000s to embrace the independent sector. I suppose if you hang around for long enough…!
However, this isn’t a time to be complacent. The current fair winds and following seas may be fleeting, but there are certainly opportunities to make lasting changes, for the benefit of the sector, but most importantly, for patients.
Every year we ask our members for their considered, constructive views on how we’re doing, and it’s a matter of great pride that our members tell us really positive things about our impact, our support, our responsiveness and how we work on their behalf. That vote of confidence is great to hear.
The future of the independent health sector looks bright. The sector is well-placed to continue to grow and to play a leading role in the delivery of healthcare in the UK. The IHPN is committed to supporting the sector’s growth, and to ensuring that the independent sector has a strong voice in the development of healthcare policy. Here’s to the next 100 members…!