Today’s revelation revealed that the private sector contracted by NHS to combat the pandemic received furlough cash in excess of a million pounds and made huge profits.

Health chiefs signed a series of contracts with private hospital operators worth over £2billion during the first year of Covid to ease the burden of the crisis.

According to the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, (CHPI), the hospitals provided less than 0.1% of the country’s viral care and admitted fewer patients to the NHS than the year before.

MPs last night called on the multi-billion pound companies involved to pay back the £72million furlough support they shared. 

However, private hospitals insisted that staff infirmed or unable to work were not furloughed.

Independent sectors have previously criticised health services for not using their willingness to provide assistance.

Ministers made a deal to allow private health care facilities to be utilized in order help address the record-driven backlog of patients awaiting routine surgery, such as knee and hip replacements.

The Independent Healthcare Providers Network, a trade association, admitted that every day of staff capacity available for NHS patients was not being used in a letter it sent to Downing St officials.

NHS bosses – who have started cancelling operations again because of Omicron and rising staff absences – insisted that trusts work ‘very closely’ with independent firms.

Healthcare companies took £72million in furlough support - Ramsay Health Care (poster pictured) claimed £525,000 despite receiving £385million from the NHS

Healthcare companies took £72million in furlough support – Ramsay Health Care (poster pictured) claimed £525,000 despite receiving £385million from the NHS

The letter, leaked to the The Daily Telegraph in October, prompted the Department of Health to say: ‘We expect trusts to make full use of available capacity.’

The original copy, written by the IHPN’s chief executive David Hare, welcomed extra funding to help trusts ‘deliver higher levels of activity’, as part of a £10billion deal.

It added that many NHS systems were struggling to achieve higher independent sector capacity utilisation.

“This is because every day the capacity of the staffed, independent sector to care for NHS patients goes unused.”

Yet health service insiders last winter accused the private sector of ‘taking the p*** and walking off with the money’.

The Health Service Journal, a trade publication for health chiefs, reported that some within the NHS ‘expressed the view’ that the private industry needed to be ‘shamed’ into providing more help.

Meanwhile, the thinktank behind the new furlough report previously admitted the under-utilisation of the private sector was unsurprising because of its reliance on NHS staff.

Sid Ryan was the author of the CHPI’s October earlier review. He claimed that the issue “begs the questions: Why then did the Government accept this generous deal?”‘.

The CHPI’s new analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures 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.

The pandemic 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 (stock image)

This pandemic is causing companies to make huge profits, and increase revenues at a moment when the NHS has been on its knees. The NHS’ waiting lists continue growing every day.

Lincolnshire hospitals announce an urgent staffing crisis and say that Omicron-fuelled crises have ‘compromised healthcare’

Hospitals in Lincolnshire have declared a staffing emergency amid Omicron-fuelled absences — as the NHS draws up plans to recruit reservists to help ease winter pressures.

In leaked documents, United Lincolnshire Hospitals stated that many nurses and doctors were absent during shifts. This meant that the care of stroke patients and those with heart disease was compromised.

The trust — which runs four major hospitals in the county — had 7.5 per cent of employees, or 643 out of 8,500, off sick on December 26, including 150 who were absent due to Covid.

It declared yesterday a “critical incident”, meaning that hospital leaders are asking for support from trusts nearby to manage the situation.

It comes amid mounting concerns over a staffing crisis in the NHS 110,000 employees — or one in ten — off sick due to the virus in late December, including 50,000 suffering from Covid. The NHS has advised trusts to be prepared for 1 in 4 absentees.

Nadhim Zhawi, former Minister of Vaccines, sought to soothe fears by saying today that the NHS can get through this crisis as it is’very efficient’ in deploying personnel to the frontlines.

BBC Breakfast’s Education Secretary said that the NHS was very capable of moving staff about within its system. Now they have the infrastructure for that.

“(The NHS is) very adept at monitoring staff shortages and dealing with them fairly well. It’s been done over many winters, when there have been big flu epidemics.

Already, the NHS Trusts have begun to plan for how they will deal with the staffing crisis and the pressures posed by the virus in the winter months.

Several — including trusts in London, Yorkshire and Essex — have now banned visitors for patients, with some saying Covid transmission on their wards had been linked to people visiting patients.

Sajid Javid also announced plans to recruit clinical and nonclinical staff into an army of reservists for the NHS, to assist during periods of high stress and winter months.

David Rowland, director of CHPI said that it was becoming increasingly evident that the UK’s largely foreign-owned private hospitals have the appearance to be playing the pandemic in its favor.

“They received billions of pounds from the NHS budget for operating expenses, but were required to support the NHS very little in return. They have also furloughed employees to lower their wages.

“This has allowed these companies to make huge profits, increase revenues and withstand a difficult time for the NHS and growing waiting lists.

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.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP said that companies are using the NHS to make cash because of Covid. Businesses would be prevented from closing down by the furlough programme.

“Some of these guys made billions of dollars in profits. Omicron has helped many businesses to fall on their knees during Christmas.

“These health companies must do their bit and repay the public money that was given to them to prevent them from going out of business.

“This is the minimum that any responsible company can do to support the NHS.

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 from Unison is head of the health unit. The right thing would be to give money back to the Exchequer.

The Treasury refused to say whether or not the Chancellor asked for any money back from health companies.

One spokesperson said that Furlow provided support to over a million UK-based businesses, and helped to protect nearly 12million jobs. The scheme allowed businesses to pass on all money received to their employees.

HCA Healthcare spokesmen said, “We furloughed some members of our team whose roles didn’t directly impact patient safety and the delivery of care.”

“We only used furlough for a temporary and partial purpose and restricted its use to the areas that were absolutely necessary.”

Aspen claimed it used furlough for a limited number of employees. It added: “We provided thousands of outpatient clinics as well as diagnostic scans and other time-critical services to NHS patients.

Nuffield Health stated that curbs caused its wellbeing and fitness centres to close. This affected 6,000 employees. The charity said that these employees were being furloughed in order to’support our financial sustainability and protect their jobs’.