Nuffield shows its hand as hospital group gambles on wellbeing

In what it described as the “biggest programme of change” in its 51-year history, Nuffield Health – the new name for Nuffield Hospitals – will look to forge a reputation as Britain’s leading provider of employee health and wellbeing services, as opposed to being thought of simply as a standalone hospital operator.

The move comes as hospital providers’ revenue streams from traditional sources continue to slow. It also comes as employers and insurers signal their intention to implement wider health and wellness strategies rather than simply provide people with fast access to elective hospital procedures.

Last year, Nuffield raised eyebrows across the private healthcare sector when it acquired Cannons Health & Fitness, the health club chain which has 52 gyms across the UK. The move – which Nuffield chief executive David Mobbs describes as “a bold step toward more consumer-oriented health services” – now appears to be about more than simply owning gyms. Rather, it forms a central part of his strategy to develop Nuffield as an “end-to-end” health and wellbeing provider, he claimed.

Nuffield Health will join up services across its various business units, Mobbs said. That means, for example, that the provider will be able to give people access to relevant nutritional and exercise programmes alongside any clinical care that they might be receiving. Further, by extending “pathways” for people when they come into a hospital for an operation, customer-patients will be able to access services in a number of different Nuffield-owned locations.

In addition to the Cannons gyms, Nuffield owns more than 200 facilities across the UK, including Nuffield Health Hospitals, Courtney’s Sports & Leisure Centres, specialist health assessment centres and fitness and wellbeing facilities embedded in over 100 client company sites. This, Mobbs said, means that Nuffield Health has the “largest reach of any independent sector provider in the market”.

Mobbs denied, though, that the move is a direct response to the challenging market conditions facing independent sector hospital providers today.

According to the most recent figures available from independent healthcare analyst Laing & Buisson, revenues of independent medical/surgical hospitals and clinics in the UK are being held back by a slowdown in NHS demand for private elective surgery, continued low growth in medical insurance claims costs, and very marginal real growth in self-pay revenues.

Although Mobbs said that industry-wide trend is not the reason for Nuffield’s new strategic direction, he conceded that in the future it is going to be “more difficult” to operate as a standalone hospital provider. But as a provider of joined up services, Nuffield would be able to help employers and consumers to avoid health problems from happening in the first place, but also give them access to hospital services when ill-health does occur.

Over recent years, independent sector hospitals, including Nuffield, have been carrying out operations on behalf of the NHS, and although that trend has slowed, Mobbs said that is not the primary driver behind his new strategic vision, either. Mobbs has been highly critical of the lack of clarity from central government regarding the role of the independent sector in the NHS and has publicly stated that it is unfair to expect the private sector to provide public services without some guarantee of how much work might be available.

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