The pandemic saw the NHS receive millions in furlough money from private healthcare companies, while also generating huge profits.
There were demands last night for companies with multi-billion-pound global operations to repay the money they borrowed from the Government.
The NHS signed a series of contracts worth more than £2billion with private hospital firms in the first year of the pandemic to ease the burden of the crisis.
Yet the companies delivered less than 0.1 per cent of the nation’s Covid care and took on fewer NHS patients than the year previously, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI) said.
Healthcare companies took £72million in furlough support – Ramsay Health Care (poster pictured) claimed £525,000 despite receiving £385million from the NHS
The think-tank’s analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures has revealed private health bodies collected as much as £72million in furlough support – enough to pay the salaries of more than 2,000 nurses.
The NHS paid HCA Healthcare as much as £190million in the pandemic, but the firm also claimed furlough money worth up to £3million.
Accounts show the US parent company increased its profit margin nearly 40 per cent to £7billion. Australian firm Ramsay Health Care claimed up to £525,000 despite receiving £385million from the NHS.
The company’s income increased 15 per cent last year and its profit margin rose 13 per cent to £100million.
CHPI director David Rowland said: ‘It is increasingly clear that the mainly foreign-owned private hospital sector in the UK has the appearance of having gamed the pandemic to its advantage.
‘They have received billions of pounds out of the NHS budget to cover their operating costs, while being required to provide very little support for the NHS in return and have furloughed staff to reduce their wage bills.
These companies have seen soaring profits, increased revenue and a reduction in the NHS’s debt (stock photo).
This has led to soaring profits and increased revenues for these companies at a time when the NHS is on its knees and waiting lists are growing by the day.’
Aspen Healthcare also claimed £800,000 while it took £55million from the health service. The London-based firm’s accounts for 2020 show its revenue increased from £83million to £89million, while it made £5.7million profit.
Labour MP Stella Creasy said: ‘This is companies using our NHS as a cashpoint because of Covid. Businesses would be prevented from closing down by the furlough programme.
‘Some of these guys have made billions in profit. Omicron has helped many businesses to fall on their knees during Christmas.
‘These health firms have to play their part and pay back public money they were given to stop them going out of business.
‘For any responsible business committed to the NHS, this is the least they could do.’ UK medical giant Nuffield Health, a not-for-profit charity, claimed the bulk of the furlough cash, collecting £64.5million despite taking more than £224million from the NHS.
Only UK firm Spire Healthcare has repaid £220,000 it received.
In total, more than 1.3million firms claimed £70billion in furlough support to 11.1million workers’ wages. To date, £1.3billion has been paid back. Some private firms that were part of a NHS pandemic plan did not claim furlough.
Sara Gorton, head of health at trade union Unison, said: ‘During times of crisis, everyone needs to pull together for the greater good. Returning money to the Exchequer would be the right thing to do.’ The Treasury would not say whether the Chancellor had asked any health firms for money back.
A spokesman said: ‘Furlough provided a lifeline to more than a million businesses across the UK and protected nearly 12million jobs, with businesses passing all the money they received from the scheme on to employees.’
A HCA Healthcare spokesman said: ‘We furloughed some of the team whose roles did not directly impact patient safety or the delivery of care to patients. We used furlough on a partial and temporary basis and limited its use to where it was necessary.’
Aspen said it used furlough to protect the jobs of a small number of staff, adding: ‘We delivered thousands of outpatient clinics, diagnostic scans and time-critical operations to NHS patients.’
Nuffield Health stated that curbs caused its wellbeing and fitness centres to close. This affected 6,000 employees. It added these workers were furloughed ‘to support the charity’s financial sustainability and protect the jobs of our people’.