FEARS have been raised of a 'two-tier NHS' as Royal Bournemouth Hospital will open its doors to fee-paying private patients.

The NHS hospital wants a radical increase in revenue from the treatment of private patients as budgets come under pressure.

The £800,000 purpose built luxurious unit featuring luxury toiletries and satellite TV will be run by Bournemouth Private Clinic (BPC), established in 2008 by the trust from Ward 10, a former oncology unit which has been empty since patients moved elsewhere.

Find out more about the private hospital in this FAQ Bournemouth Private Clinic FAQs.docx

Work has been funded by Royal Bournemouth Hospital but the NHS will recover the costs when the private unit opens its doors from March 28.

Poole Hospital launched its private unit The Cornelia Suite, which contains six private rooms in 2012. It brings in around £2.4 million a year which is invested into the NHS site.

Hospital bosses say the extra income can be used to provide better care for NHS patients.

But critics fear NHS resources are being disproportionately directed at patients with money and that a two-tier system could emerge.

Martyn Webster, manager of Healthwatch Dorset, said: "Coming hot on the heels of the revelation about the Poole Road GPs setting up a private practice in their NHS surgery, local people may very well be concerned to hear about this new private patient unit at Bournemouth Hospital. At a time when the news is full of stories about how the NHS is struggling to cope with demand and there aren't enough beds for people who need them, local people will be wondering why that empty space on Ward 10 wasn't used to provide some much needed extra beds for NHS patients? The opening of this new private unit will be seen by many as potentially compromising the care given to NHS patients and leading to a two-tier NHS.

"The hospital should make a full and open disclosure of how the additional income from private services is being used, so that local people can see that it really has been used to directly benefit the wider population through the NHS."

The specialist BPC unit, which has the capacity to treat around 800 private patients has four private patient bedrooms, two consulting rooms and a treatment room and will operate six days a week as a stand-alone service offering medical services from cancer care to dermatology.

A spokesman for the Bournemouth Private Clinic insisted NHS patients ‘still have the priority.’

When cross-over services are needed such as NHS operating theatres, BPC will rent them from RBH - but only when they are not being used by NHS patients, she added.

However a spokesman added BPC patients ‘can usually be seen quicker for non-emergency surgery and treatment in a private capacity’ because consultants will see them in their own time.

In an emergency, ‘private patients will not be jumping the queue ahead of NHS patients should they need urgent attention’ because they would be referred back into the NHS on arrival in the Emergency Department, who then prioritise patients according to need.

The 'sole purpose' of the unit is to ‘fund high quality care for NHS patients’ including to buy equipment and provide staff training ‘over and above what the NHS can afford.’

In the past six years, BPC has reinvested more than £3m into equipment and staff resources at RBCH.

NHS staff will ‘not be working in BPC to the detriment of NHS patients’ and both teams will be paid the same wage, she added.

Michelle Burden, general manager of private patient services at the trust, said: “Consultants working in the NHS have always had the option to work privately and many choose to do so. With our new facilities at BPC, we can now encourage consultants to run their private practices from our hospitals. This means the trust will be able to benefit from profits raised by providing private patient care, using NHS resources when the trust has free capacity. This is far better for our trust than consultants using external facilities to run their practices, as the NHS can’t benefit from that at all.

She added: “The approach we are taking allows us to further concentrate on making our very good NHS services even better.”