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Private provision of NHS care soars

Community and mental health services increase spend on non-NHS providers

Louise Prime

Friday, 04 July 2014

NHS community and mental health services’ use of non-NHS providers has soared sharply in England over the past year, shows a new analysis by the Nuffield Trust. And although spending on private provision of hospital services has slowed, the charity predicts that this is a short-term blip before another rapid acceleration.

Nuffield Trust researchers analysed the audited accounts of primary care trusts in England, and found that a fifth of all the money that commissioners spent on community health services in 2012-13 went to independent sector providers. And overall, non-NHS providers, including voluntary and other providers, accounted for almost a third of the NHS’s total £9.75bn spend on community health services in 2012-13 – a rise of 34% in just one year. Over the same period, spending on non-NHS provision of mental health services rose by 15% in real terms.

The charity also reported a drop last year in the amount spent on non-NHS providers of hospital care. The hospital sector spent a total of over £40bn in 2012-13, of which £1.582bn went to the private sector – a drop of £14m on the £1.596m spent on private providers in the previous year. The Nuffield Trust describes this plateauing as ‘probably a short-term phenomenon’ and warns that changes to procurement rules could well lead spend on non-NHS providers of hospital care to accelerate again in future.

The charity’s chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “This analysis shows that there has been a real shift in the makeup of organisations providing community and mental health services over the past three years, with a third of spending on community services now flowing to the private or voluntary sector.

“While spending on non-NHS providers of hospital care has slowed, this plateau is probably a short-term phenomenon – changes in procurement rules may well see this accelerate in future”.

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