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The impact of COVID on for-profit health care

How and where will COVID affect hospitals, labs, nursing homes and the twenty other sub-sectors that together make up for-profit healthcare?

Here at HBI we are in the middle of a detailed and ambitious project on its impact on the industry we track. This will see us update our forecasts in HBI Intelligence across a dozen sectors and 20 countries over the coming weeks and months. Nursing homes, hospitals and the lab sector will be published within ten days. We’ve also launched an online survey – contribute here and we will send you a report on the findings.

What can we say so far? Labs and imaging are seeing revenue more or less halve in Europe. Elective procedures have fallen off a cliff and COVID-19 testing is mainly done by the government. That fall may be much lower in countries where consumers typically pay out of pocket for tests. In Russia, for instance, the wealthy can pay $25 for a courier to deliver a testing kit and then take it to a lab to give a result in 24 hours.

Nursing homes have typically seen 1-2 months of no new residents, leaving occupancy rates after COVID-19 deaths up to 12% lower. At the same time costs have soared as they invest in PPE and extra staff. The big debate is how quickly they will refill. Very fast in countries like the UK and Sweden where local authorities are forced to take bed blockers from acute hospitals. Much more slowly elsewhere and particularly for private pay beds. The rich will delay their entry to nursing homes for as long as possible.

Apart from Germany where many for-profit hospitals treat as wide a range of patients and conditions as the public sector, hospitals have generally seen a huge decline in electives with activity down as much as 80-90% in some markets.

The big and unanswered question is how far the state will now help out. Germany and France are unveiling generous support for their private hospitals.

NHS-based systems for whom the private sector is the enemy are likely to be much less generous. The famously impartial BBC Radio 4 set the tone this morning. Talking to the boss of Care England a trade association the interviewer asked: “Aren’t you a front for the millionaires and billionaires who have got very rich indeed from buying up care homes?”. Click here to hear it and go to 1 hour 51 minutes on the recording.

But such mutterings are also coming from rightist Christian democrat politicians who are talking about the need to end profits in the care sector.

Much of this is simply politicians defending their incompetence going on the attack.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Max Hotopf or call 0207 183 3779.