NHS privatisation fears after figures show third of knee replacements done by private sector

Tens of thousands procedures are now outsourced to the private sector every year

Saturday 22 September 2018 10:01 BST
NHS releases video showing impact of nursing in recruitment push

Almost one in three knee replacements and 20 per cent of hip replacements that are NHS funded are carried out by private healthcare providers, figures have revealed.

The number of routine operations being transferred to the independent sector ever year has been on the rise since 2012, with the figure now in the tens of thousands.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said soaring demand and long waiting lists are forcing the NHS to turn to others for help.

Campaigners described the move to outsource surgeries as an intentional step towards privatisation and a spokesperson for campaigning group Doctors for the NHS said the money that goes on the private sector could be spent on the “crippling” NHS.

“This is the inevitable and remorseless result of catastrophic underfunding linked with a deadly process of deliberate and systematic privatisation. Our NHS should have the capacity to cope with increasing demand for these procedures and, unlike private suppliers, it trains good and skilful people to do this work,” Alan Taman, spokesperson for the group, told The Independent.

“Instead we see a growing chorus of blame for ‘NHS failures’ when it is being set up to fail. This is crippling the NHS – and private suppliers are certainly not going to come running to save it. We must,” he added.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health and social care secretary, said the current situation was not sustainable and said the taxpayer should not be paying for operations to be outsourced.

“Ballooning waiting lists mean patients left in agony longer, and hospitals bosses forced to use the private sector to cope with demands,” he said.

“This isn’t sustainable and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for a private sector bonanza like this. Tory ministers can’t keep burying their heads in the sand. They need to get a grip urgently of growing waiting lists.”

The RCS has warned that the outsourcing of these procedures was having a negative impact on young surgeons, who are unable to access training opportunities in the independent sector and are struggling to carry out enough operations to meet training requirements.

The data, published in response to a parliamentary question by Labour peer Lord Philip Hunt, shows 28,700 NHS-funded knee replacements were carried out by independent providers in 2016-17.

This represents 29.4 per cent of NHS knee replacements that year, compared with 20.1 per cent in 2012-13 when there were 16,688.

Meanwhile, 22,872 NHS hip replacements were carried out by the independent sector in 2016-17, accounting for 19.7 per cent of the total.

This was an increase from 2012-13, when there were 14,427 undertaken by private providers – 13.7 per cent of the total.

Professor Derek Alderson, president of the RCS, said: “Faced with growing demand for services and unacceptably long waiting lists, the NHS is increasingly looking to the independent sector to relieve some of the pressure.

“This is especially true in hospitals where there aren’t enough free beds to allow planned surgery to go ahead.”

While private hospitals provide “much-needed extra capacity” and help patients receive treatment more quickly, he warned the trend risks drawing resources and staff away from the NHS.

He added: “Ultimately, we would like to see the NHS grow to meet patient demand.

“The government’s long-term plan for the NHS must focus on creating the capacity that is needed, including beds, whether that be by building new wards, reopening wards that have been mothballed or ensuring there are enough staff to work on wards.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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