The NHS has accepted less than 1% of the capacity offered by private hospitals in the last three months of 2015 to ease NHS waiting lists.
According to the NHS Partners Network, the trade body which represents independent providers of NHS care, the UK’s private hospital groups offered to deliver 55,000 surgical procedures and 200,000 diagnostic tests at NHS prices during this period.
However, the majority of this capacity was turned down despite the NHS waiting list target for this period being breached for the first time since its introduction in 2012.
At least 92% of patients are supposed to have to wait no longer than 18 weeks between referral and treatment, however, only 91.8% of patients on the waiting list at the end of 2015 were seen within this target time.
NHS Partners chief executive David Hare (pictured), who has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt on the matter, said that it is “clearly unacceptable that patients, carers and families are left waiting longer than necessary for treatment, while capacity, available to NHS patients, continues to go unused”.
Some critics within in the NHS say, however, that the independent sector’s capacity to help is overstated as it is not necessarily in the regions where they are needed most.
Miriam Deakin, head of policy at NHS providers said that it is “important to recognise that the capacity of the independent sector to meet this need does vary across the country”.
Furthermore, as a former senior NHS employee told the FT, sometimes patients don’t want to be treated in independent sector hospitals either. The source said: “Patients often wouldn’t move. If you said to a patient ‘you’re on a waiting list to go to your NHS hospital but you can go to this independent sector hospital down the road’, many of them would say ‘no, I’ll wait and see the doctor that I’ve already seen once at my local hospital’.”
The news follows revelations that private providers are losing out on a growing number of NHS block contracts with 73.3% of them held by NHS providers between 2013-2016.