Inquiry urged into surgeons' private work 36/36 over 3 deckys

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The Independent Online
Labour last night called for an inquiry into allegations that NHS patients are being deprived of treatment because surgeons are doing too much private work during the time they are paid by the state.

Although the NHS has made it clear that consultants should spend no more than one-half day session a week in the private sector, a nationwide survey of orthopaedic and ophthalmology surgeons found that more than 58 per cent spend two or more half-day sessions a week seeing private patients.

Another 30 per cent do one half-day session seeing private patients and most of them would spend at least another half-day session a week operating on private patients.

The survey was conducted by Dr John Yates of the University of Birmingham, a former adviser to the Department of Health. Researchers examined the number of private consultation sessions each week by a total of 243 surgeons. The 177 trauma and orthopaedicsurgeons represented more than 25 per cent of orthopaedic surgeons in the Medical Directory and the 66 ophthalmologists 15 per cent of their speciality.

In a separate study of the 39 NHS cardiac surgeons in London, Dr Yates found that of an estimated 7,700 operations they performed, more than half - 4,300 - were private operations.

In a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary tonight, Dr Yates claims NHS waiting lists and times are growing longer because of the increasing amount of time consultants spend treating private patients. He says the average waiting time to see a NHS general surgeon has increased from eight weeks to 13 weeks over the last 10 years.

Last month the Audit Commission published a report on the NHS. In the original draft it said consultants "should not devote . . . more than one session during the normal working week to private practice". But the programme claims that after pressure fromthe Department of Health there was no mention of this in the final report.

The British Medical Association said a Monopolies and Mergers Commission last year established that those consultants doing the most private practice were also comfortably exceeding their minimum commitments in the NHS.

Labour last night called for a government inquiry into the issue. Margaret Beckett, Labour's health spokeswoman, also published figures showing that in England the number of private in-patient episodes in NHS hospitals increased by 12.7 per cent from 87,906 in 1991-92 to 99,066 in 1992-93.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said: "It is important that NHS work comes first . . . Thanks to the creation of NHS trusts managers are now in a stronger position to ensure abuses do not occur.