THE BLOG

Why Independent Providers Are Good for the NHS

28/05/2013 15:41 BST | Updated 28/07/2013 10:12 BST

When I was a nurse in the 1990s I was both upset and frustrated to see young people with neurological conditions having to live in inappropriate care homes for the elderly.

I felt these young people, who were towards the end of their life, were being grossly let down. They deserved more appropriate age-specific care.

It was this conviction that drove me to try and set up Bluebirds, a specialist neurological care centre in Milton Keynes.

At first it was immensely difficult to secure financial support from banks who seemed to believe that a nurse - which is what I was then seen as - could not possibly present them with a viable business proposition

But I had a strong belief in my vision of what I felt I could provide for these young people so I persevered, and eventually secured funding from Unity Trust Bank.

Bluebirds is now part of our family-run business, PJ Care, which has grown to encompass two other neurological care units in Milton Keynes, as well as Eagle Wood Neurological Care Centre in Peterborough.

What we have achieved is one of the reasons why I have been shortlisted for a First Women Award, held in association with Lloyds Banking Group. Certainly a few battles have had to be won to have got this far, including overcoming the fact that it has not always been easy being a woman in what, at a management level, is a male-dominated health sector.

Nevertheless we are now one of the many independent/private care providers working with the NHS which, despite some media reports, patients do hold in high regard. Eight out of 10 patients say the NHS treats them with dignity and respect.

There are ongoing debates as to the extent of the role independent providers should play in the NHS. There is a perception that independent providers always pursue profit at the expense of patient care. How wrong this is. Every day of my working life and those of my colleagues is devoted to providing the best care for our residents, almost all of whom are from the NHS.

I would also like to emphasise how many independent providers always work in full partnership with the NHS. I know of independent providers working with their local NHS hospital to provide beds for its patients who no longer require hospital care but are not yet ready for full discharge. In this way independent providers can significantly prevent the "bed-blocking" within NHS hospitals.

Independent providers also have an ability to innovate, be flexible and respond rapidly to meet patient needs. When it comes to creating and launching new services, we can often react faster and more efficiently than the NHS. This means we actually add value and quality to NHS provision.

I know of many examples where NHS commissioners are known to ask independent providers if they can could provide a particular specialist service, whether for example it be for people with complex disabilities, autism or mental health. Due to slick decision-making and an efficient calling up of resources independent providers are often able to launch such a service more quickly than the bureaucracy-heavy NHS.

We must also remember that all independent providers to the NHS are monitored and regulated not only by the state regulator, the Care Quality Commission, but also by the NHS commissioners who purchase services on behalf of patients. We continually - and rightly - have to demonstrate how we provide high-quality, value-for-money care and treatment.

Finally, while some of the larger independent providers are backed by private equity, it is important to appreciate that this is not the case for most small and medium-sized independent providers to the NHS, some of which are family-run. Profit made by them is often reinvested into services for the benefit of patients.

I hope these points demonstrate how an independent provider can not only work successfully in partnership with the NHS we can be part of what enables and equips the NHS to develop and provide quality outcomes for patients. It is what I have been striving to do since the very first day I set up PJ Care.

Jan Flawn is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.