Blow for private patients as Bupa pulls out of Belfast Trust hospitals
One of the UK's biggest private health insurance companies has pulled out of Belfast Trust hospitals, it can be revealed today.
It means that a person paying thousands of pounds a year to Bupa will have to travel outside of Northern Ireland for cardiac bypass surgery and specialist cancer scans.
This is because the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast is the only hospital in Northern Ireland where these services are available.
It is understood that Bupa stopped sending its customers - who pay upwards of £300 a month - to hospitals in the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust six months ago.
It has emerged the step was taken by Bupa as the trust does not have in place the indemnity insurance required by Bupa to send its customers to a hospital for treatment - understood to be in the region of £20m.
The medical negligence insurance is required so that if something goes wrong for a Bupa customer, they can make a claim against the trust.
Private healthcare companies such as Bupa only pay for treatments if customers attend approved hospitals and see approved consultants.
In order to be approved, a hospital must fulfil a number of requirements, including meeting hygiene standards and having indemnity insurance in place.
They normally ask clients to choose from a list of approved doctors and hospitals ahead of any treatment being carried out.
Prior to Bupa stopping using Belfast Health & Social Care Trust hospitals, its clients could opt to undergo life-saving cardiac bypass surgery and PET scans in Northern Ireland.
Coronary bypass surgery improves the blood flow to the heart muscle, while PET scans can help show up a cancer, ascertain the stage of the disease, reveal whether a lump is cancer, show whether the disease has spread to other parts of the body, and help doctors decide the best treatment for their patient.
PET scans can also show how well a cancer drug is working.
Bupa customers can continue to access other diagnostic tests and surgical procedures, such as cardiac catheterisation, at other hospitals around Northern Ireland.
James Sherwood, Bupa's director of health and benefits management, said: "The wellbeing and safety of our customers is always our top priority.
"Belfast Health & Social Care Trust doesn't currently have medical negligence insurance for private patients so we've made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend referrals to its hospitals.
"We're in regular contact with the trust, working with them to arrange the appropriate medical negligence insurance so they can return to being on our recognised list of hospitals," he added.
A spokeswoman from the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust said: "Withdrawing recognition was a decision taken by Bupa. Belfast Trust continues to treat patients who hold private health insurance with other companies."
The spokeswoman did not explain why it has the insurance necessary for other private healthcare companies to send their customers to trust hospitals but not the insurance necessary for Bupa.
Bupa, which can charge a couple in their 60s more than £600 a month for health insurance, is working with patients who are already midway through inpatient, outpatient and day case treatment within the trust.
It is understood that Bupa is covering the cost of travel between Northern Ireland the UK mainland.
It is not known whether the firm pays for travel and accommodation for a family member to travel with the patient.