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Spire Healthcare, the independently owned acute provider, is taking Heart of England Foundation Trust to the High Court over the breast surgeon Ian Paterson.

Mr Paterson was employed by HEFT but did private work at Spire. In the case, scheduled for October, the company will say that the trust’s failure to warn it of concerns about Mr Paterson’s conduct means it breached its duty of care to private patients.

The trust has said if the case is successful it would make the NHS liable to pay compensation to private patients – even where they have had no contact with taxpayer funded services other than being treated by doctors who do most of their work in the public sector.

Earlier this month, Mr Paterson had his jail sentence for performing unnecessary operations on hundreds of patients extended to 20 years.

Spire, which turned over more than £900m in 2016-17, does a mix of private and NHS funded work – just under £300m came from the NHS last year, overwhelmingly via elective care. The firm reported post-tax profits of £53.6m.

The firm’s taxpayer funded income makes it as big an NHS provider as a modest general acute trust. Particularly in the north, where around half of its work is, Spire is an important provider and we’d notice if they weren’t there.

A common argument we hear from the private sector is that they should be regarded as equal partners in the NHS, and the publicly owned providers should not run sustainability and transformation partnerships as a closed shop.

It is a reasonable point to make, but hard to square with Spire’s position, which is essentially that the NHS should be solely responsible for ensuring that dangerous doctors are not allowed to practice anywhere, and solely liable for all compensation claims, regardless of where treatment took place.

What does that make private providers? Little more than suppliers of facilities, if you follow the logic through.

Perhaps that’s all Spire aspires to be. Because it seems a strange course of action to take if its goal is to build trust with the NHS and become an equal partner in publicly funded health services.

Keith McNeil announces departure

The NHS’s first national clinical chief information officer Keith McNeil is leaving after just 13 months in the role.

Dr McNeil will leave the NHS in December to return to Australia. He will take up a role as assistant deputy director general at Queensland Health and chief medical information officer for Queensland.

He said: “Although I am returning to Australia for personal and family reasons, I plan to keep a close eye on progress and look forward to seeing the digital transformation programme deliver benefits to patients and clinicians over the years to come.”

The creation of a national CCIO role was one of the key recommendations of Professor Robert Wachter’s review of NHS IT last year, which has become one of the foundations for the NHS’s digital strategy.

The review said the role would “signal that the NHS understands the adaptive nature of this effort to change, that it is serious about clinician engagement when it comes to health IT, and that it is putting a premium on clinical, not simply financial, outcomes”.