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CQC promotes private health firm
NHS hospital inspectors are being signposted towards private healthcare by their employers, it has emerged.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) directs its workers to Benenden Healthcare through its company intranet, a Freedom on Information (FOI) request by the Press Association has revealed.
The watchdog, which regulates NHS and private health and social care services in England, said information about the private healthcare firm is displayed alongside information about childcare vouchers, a cycle scheme and a counselling and legal information phone line.
Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said patients would be "unnerved" by the finding.
FOI requests sent to Department of Health arms-length bodies and NHS hospitals asked whether any employees receive private medical insurance as a benefit as part of their terms of employment.
In its FOI response, the CQC said no staff receive such a benefit but added: "However, the Benenden Healthcare option is available to all staff as part of the employee benefits package. Membership is agreed directly between the organisation and the person, dependent upon the type of cover they choose, and payments are made by the employee by direct debit (or whatever other method is agreed). Payment is not deducted from an individual's salary.
"As this is a private agreement between the person and Benenden Healthcare, and as any agreements are paid for privately, CQC does not hold records of who has accessed this benefit."
A spokesman for the watchdog added: "No CQC employee receives any private health care insurance as part of their terms and conditions of service. The scheme, which is not subsidised in any way by CQC, is brought to employees' attention on CQC's intranet alongside information on other services such as childcare vouchers, the Government's Cyclescheme, Payroll Giving and a 24 hour telephone counselling and legal information service."
Mr Reed said: " Patients will be unnerved by this - hospitals inspectors choosing not to use the NHS.
"They can see patient care standards slipping backwards under this Government.
"It is proof you can't trust the Tories with the NHS. David Cameron must cut his spin and get a grip."
Meanwhile thousands of pounds of NHS money was spent last year actually paying for private medical insurance for some employees.
These benefits were given to employees protected under the rights that workers are allowed to "carry" to new employers when they are the subject of a takeover - known as Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment (TUPE) rights.
Under these rights, which ensure employment conditions are protected, three of 136 hospital trusts in England which responded to Freedom of Information requests were forced to shell out money for private health care.
Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust paid out more than £16,200 last year to cover private health care for three members of staff. And in 2011/12 it paid £18,600.
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust handed out £13,100 last year for the private medical insurance of three employees protected under the scheme.
And Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust had one staff member transferred to its employment subject to the TUPE arrangement. However, the trust declined to divulge how much it paid for the perk.
In its FOI response, the Hull and East Yorkshire Trust said: "A group of staff receive private health insurance, these staff transferred into the trust from a private company as a consequence of an acquisition.
"They receive the benefit as part of their protection under TUPE regulations. As such the trust were legally obligated to continue providing that contractual benefit to those individuals."
Meanwhile, t he National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has also paid out thousands of pounds to cover the private medical insurance of some 20 employees.
Over the last three years the health watchdog has spent £10,200 covering private medical insurance for these workers.
Neither the chief executive or the board members of Nice, the Norfolk and Norwich trust or the Hull and East Yorkshire trust received private medical insurance benefits. It is unclear what kind of employee is covered under the TUPE rights at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals.
A Nice spokesperson said: "We provide some dental and optical insurance for 20 staff who brought their terms and conditions with them when they joined NICE under TUPE arrangements when their organisation became part of the institute."