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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Inside London's private casualty clinic
The centre is located in a state-of-the art 5m facility
A private casualty clinic has opened its doors to patients with minor ailments in west London.

Casualty Plus charges patients an initial fee of 29 and promises to see them "in minutes not hours".

BBC News Online talked to staff and patients on its opening day.

Lynette Johnson was the first patient through the door of London's new private casualty clinic in Brentford.

The 43-year-old City worker walked into the plush reception of the 5m purpose-built centre at 8am, just one hour after it opened its doors.

Ms Johnson, who lives nearby, had a problem with her knee. She had read about Casualty Plus and decided to check it out before she went to work.

Casualty Plus Price List
Doctor consultation 29
Sprained ankle, including bandaging and crutches 59
Sore throat including test for glandular fever and antibiotics 59
Cut hand, including stitches 84
Broken arm including X-ray and plaster 99
"I have been relying on the local NHS services. They provide a good service but I have not been able to get there during work hours.

"I thought I would come here because it means I will have time to get to work on time."

Ms Johnson was ushered in to see a physiotherapist for a 30-minute session, within seconds of stepping foot in the building.

She is exactly the type of person Casualty Plus is trying to attract.

It is open from 7am to 11pm seven days a week - much longer than GPs in the area and with hours to suit even the busiest professionals.

Selling point

With its soft furnishings, modern design and high standard of cleanliness it contrasts starkly with many A&E departments in the capital.

But its main selling point is perhaps its pledge to see patients in minutes rather than hours.

Edwina Jennings and her family will consider using Casualty Plus
The centre is strategically sited between three NHS A&E departments in west London. Between them, they see over 200,000 patients each year.

Casualty Plus is hoping to cream off those patients who are prepared to pay for fast treatment rather than wait to be seen for free.

"Our research suggests that 34% of people who attend A&E are prepared to pay to be seen more quickly," says Dr Johan du Plesis, its clinical director, who has worked in the NHS for nine years.

"Many people cannot afford to wait four hours in A&E. We promise to see them in minutes."

The centre is not a casualty department in the true sense of the word.

It will not treat victims of car crashes, people with major injuries or those with life-threatening conditions.

Minor injuries

It will, however, treat patients with minor injuries, such as cuts and sprains, fractures and dislocations.

It has an X-ray department, physiotherapy rooms, a laboratory and a pharmacy. A day surgery unit is due to open on the second flood within weeks.

Other Casualty Plus services
Treatment for minor injuries
Day surgery
Travel vaccinations
Health screening
Testing for sexually transmitted infections and HIV
Occupational health services for companies
It has a resuscitation room to deal with any unforeseen emergencies, before patients are transferred to hospital.

"We do not treat people with major injuries," says Dr du Plessis.

"If someone having a heart attack comes in we will stabilise them before transferring them to a NHS hospital.

"The NHS is very good at dealing with these type of patients."

Prompt treatment at Casualty Plus does, of course, come at a price. The centre is in the business of making a profit after all.

It charges patients an initial fee of 29 to see a doctor. They are charged more if they require further tests or treatment.

For instance, dressing a small wound could cost another 20, putting plaster on a fractured leg after an X-ray could cost an additional 100.

In addition, patients will have to pay for prescription medicines privately, which could be more or less than they would pay if they had been treated on the NHS.

"We think most people will pay between 50 and 100 for their treatment," says the company's chief executive Syed Jaffery.

The centre, which mirrors similar centres in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, has already attracted attention from people living in the area.

Seen quickly

"When you go to A&E the first thing you think about is how long you are going to have to wait," says Edwina Jennings.

Dr Johan du Plessis
Dr du Plessis says there is demand for the service
"Here you know you will see a doctor quickly. If you want a good service unfortunately sometimes you have to pay for it."

However, others are less positive about the centre.

"The only place equipped to deal with critical illness or injury in an emergency is the NHS," says a Department of Health spokesman.

"This is very definitely undermining the NHS," says Karen Jennings of Unison.

"The NHS is founded on the principle of healthcare being free at the point of need, and this is creeping in additional charges to healthcare provision."

The Liberal Democrats have voiced concerns that the centre is poaching staff from the NHS.

"The NHS is acutely short of A&E nurses and doctors and new private providers tend to poach staff from the NHS, or at least recruit them from the same pool from which the NHS is trying to use," says its health spokesman Evan Harris.

However, the company insists it is not there to compete with the NHS.

"What we are trying to do is complement the NHS," says Mr Jaffery.

"We have always accepted that people with critical injuries will get an excellent from the NHS, and they won't have to wait, but that is at the expense of people with minor injuries who do have to wait."

Dr du Plessis adds: "We have 26 staff in the casualty unit. The NHS has over one million staff, I don't think we have had a major impact."

The company is considering opening similar centres in other parts of the UK.

"Our research shows there is a demand from patients," says Dr du Plessis.


SEE ALSO:
A&E patients face 12-hour waits
18 Jul 03  |  Health


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