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General information about Treatment Centres

  • Last modified date:
    21 April 2008
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The Treatment Centre Programme aims to help provide the extra clinical capacity needed to deliver swift access to treatment for NHS patients; spearhead diversity and choice in clinical services for NHS patients; and stimulate innovative models of service delivery and drive up productivity

Treatment centres are dedicated units that offer safe, fast, pre-booked day and short-stay surgery and diagnostic procedures in specialties such as ophthalmology, orthopaedics and a range of other conditions. These include hip and knee replacements, hernia repair and gallbladder and cataract removal, amongst others.

Treatment Centres have already made a positive contribution to patients, having reduced waiting times for thousands of patients with painful and debilitating conditions. This success has been achieved by increasing the number of spaces available for surgery outside of the emergency setting and making the treatment more efficient, and convenient whilst maintaining high levels of care.

On sites where emergency care is not separated from elective (planned) care, patients' operations may be cancelled or delayed because an emergency case has to take precedence. At sites which have facilities such as a treatment centre, planned surgery is a separate function from emergency surgery. That means operations proceed as scheduled and are not cancelled for non-clinical reasons. In addition, since pressure in acute hospital beds and wards is relieved, they can also help to speed up treatment for patients admitted to emergency care.

Choice and Treatment Centres

The Treatment Centre Programme is helping to lay the foundations for a fundamental change in the choice offered to NHS patients when they need hospital treatment.  From December 2005, NHS patients will be able to choose from a menu of 4-5 different providers when their GP decides that they need to be referred for hospital treatment or diagnostic procedures.  As well as NHS Treatment Centres, these choices will typically include at least one independent sector provider.

The choice of 4-5 providers will be introduced for cataract operations from January 2005, building on the success of the Treatment Centre programme in building new capacity in ophthalmology and helping to bring down waiting times for cataract surgery to three months. The independent sector Treatment Centre programme includes a mobile chain, together with a fixed site at Daventry, concentrating on cataracts.

The choice of moving to an alternative provider is already being offered to those patients waiting over six months for elective surgery.  The 'Choice at 6 Months' programme was introduced on a phased basis from April 2004 and became fully operational in September 2004.  Many patients have taken up offers of swifter treatment at an alternative provider, often in Treatment Centres.

Benefits to patients

Patients referred to a Treatment Centre are able to choose the date and time of their initial appointment, usually within six weeks of referral, and arrange any necessary treatment at a time which suits them.

The creation of Treatment Centres means patients:

  • wait less time for many routine operations
  • have a choice about where and when they are treated
  • are looked after by teams of health professionals specialising in that area of care
  • should not have their operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons
  • are treated in comfortable, modern surroundings.

Staffing of Treatment Centres

The NHS is currently investing to increase the number of NHS clinical staff, with significant numbers of additional nurses, hospital consultants and more GPs. Some of these health care professionals will work in the new Treatment Centres, or free up others to do so.

Treatment Centres are staffed in a number of ways, either totally by NHS staff, a mix of NHS and independent sector staff, by NHS and overseas staff working together, or entirely by independent sector staff.

Staff who work in NHS Treatment Centres are employed in exactly the same way as other NHS employees, while those in independently managed Treatment Centres will normally work under independent sector terms and conditions. In some instances, NHS staff may also work in independent sector Treatment Centres under structured arrangements, such as secondments, when they would retain all the benefits of NHS employment terms and pension rights.

Treatment Centres provide attractive opportunities for staff to learn new skills, work in different ways and develop their careers. Health care professionals already working in Treatment Centres describe the environment as being both relaxed and happy. They enjoy good relations with their patients who are delighted with the quality of care and treatment they receive.

Staff work on a planned patient list each day so that their working hours are largely predictable. For workers with family responsibilities this can be particularly valuable. Because Treatment Centres will always provide the most up-to-date treatment and care, staff will be given ample opportunity to develop and reinforce their skills, and offered appropriate training and education on a regular basis.

Treatment Centres are also involved in pilot projects to develop new ways of working for their staff.

Where Treatment Centre services are offered

Geographically, Treatment Centres are being located all across the NHS - wherever primary care trusts have identified them as the best solution for meeting local capacity needs (for maps showing their locations, please see the section homepage).

In terms of their premises, some Treatment Centres may be housed in purpose-built facilities, innovative mobile units (currently for cataract surgery and MRI scanning and reporting) while others will use hospitals, refurbished to suit their needs. Some Treatment Centres are 'virtual' centres, making use of existing facilities in a new way, not necessarily all in the same location.

In order to make the most effective and rapid impact on waiting times, Treatment Centres have already been established in a number of settings. These include:

  • existing NHS acute (hospital) facilities
  • leased facilities from the independent sector
  • new build using rapid modular construction
  • independent sector premises - BUPA's Redwood Hospital, Surrey
  • GP clinics and community hospitals in primary care trusts

Some examples of these include:

  • a refurbished Ministry of Defence building which is being utilised for the Royal Haslar Hospital Treatment Centre
  • Bromley Hospitals Treatment Centre where a ring-fenced ward is being dedicated for use by the Treatment Centre and will be located on the top floor of Orpington Hospital.
  • a new stand-alone two-storey unit being built at Hinchingbrooke Hospital for the Treatment Centre, which will link to the main hospital
  • a modular unit which is being utilised by the Frimley Park Treatment Centre for ophthalmology procedures.

Regulation and monitoring standards

Whether a patient is treated in an NHS or independent sector Treatment Centre - they remain NHS patients and can expect the same high levels of quality free at the point of need. This is a fundamental requirement of the Treatment Centre service and there are formal governance procedures in place to ensure these standards are maintained.

All doctors and surgeons working within Treatment Centres, including those from overseas, will need to be registered on the appropriate specialist register of the General Medical Council.

Useful links and resources

The Modernisation Agency runs a Treatment Centre programme offering support, learning and site visits to NHS organisations in developing NHS Treatment Centres.

The Modernisation Agency has also produced a web-based step guide which helps organisations with all aspects of the development of a Treatment Centre.

To read more about how the Treatment Centre Programme fits with the other strategies underway to meet the NHS Plan waiting time targets and improve choice and convenience for patients, see the 'Increased capacity' page in the section Waiting, booking and choice.

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