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Sharp rise in NHS operations done privately

10.5% increase in NHS procedures carried out by private sector in past year

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 02 November 2012

The amount of hospital procedures paid for by the NHS but carried out by the private sector has increased by 10.5% in the past year, according to new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Research also showed there was much variation between primary care trusts in the percentage of work that was outsourced.

The figures showed private providers treated 345,200 NHS elective admissions with a procedure in 2011-12, which was 32,900 more than in 2010-11.

Overall, this private activity represented just 4.3% of all NHS elective admissions with a procedure in 2011-12 (8 million) compared to 4% in 2010-11 (7.7 million) according to Hospital Episodes Statistics Admitted Patient Care, England 2011-12.

Hospital Episode Statistics are compiled from data sent by more than 300 NHS trusts and PCTs in England and from approximately 200 independent sector organisations for activity commissioned by the English NHS.

Analysis showed the three most common main procedures carried out by the 198 private providers for the NHS in 2011-12 were endoscopy of the upper gastrointestinal tract (relating to the digestive system), prosthesis of lens relating to cataract surgery and endoscopic cartilage operations on knee joints.

The picture varied across the country and in 2011-12, Southampton City PCT commissioned the biggest proportion of work of any PCT from private providers (10,100 – or 30.3% of – elective admissions involving a procedure), while the 10 PCTs with the lowest proportions were all in London.

Activity in England overall is increasing as the figures also showed that in 2011-12, there were 15 million admissions overall (covering emergency and elective admissions with or without a procedure) – a 0.9% rise on 2010-11 (14.9 million) and a 15.7% rise on 2006-07 (13 million).

There were also 304,200 admissions wholly attributable to alcohol, a 5.9% rise on 2010-11 (287,200) and a 27.9% rise on 2008-09, when this measure was first introduced, (237,800).

Hip replacement procedures rose 4.4% to 83,800 in 2011-12 compared with the previous year and a 28.1% rise on 2006-07.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: “The figures provide an insight into the relationship between the NHS and the private sector; in terms of the volume and type of work dealt with by private providers on behalf of the health service.

“Today's report shows that NHS hospital activity continues to grow on a yearly basis – with admissions passing 15 million in England in 2011-12.”

Health minister Lord Howe said: “The crucial thing here is that patients have access to the highest quality services possible. Letting patients choose how and where they are treated is not new.

“We want to give patients more choice about where, when and how they can access their health services and these figures show that patients are making decisions about services that meet their needs.

“Private hospitals have to comply with exactly the same quality and safety regulation and contractual standards as any NHS provider.”

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