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Private sector needs more patients

The NHS should give the private sector a larger share of its non-emergency operations to avoid a stagnation and ultimate collapse of the private market.

The NHS should give the private sector a larger share of its non-emergency operations to avoid a stagnation and ultimate collapse of the private market, according to official advice.

An analysis prepared for health ministers, and released to the Financial Times, found that the current private sector market is ìlikelyî to crumble by as early as 2009 if a second wave of operations divested from the NHS ñ in addition to the contracts already in place for the treatment of 250,000 NHS patients each year ñ does not follow.

The existing contracts for these NHS non-emergency operations to be performed by independent treatment centres across the UK are provided primarily for overseas operators. Yet, according to the analysis, this international interest may wane unless the NHS commissions out a further 250,000 operations. Furthermore, another 200,000 on top of that would be needed to provide an effective market that could involve private UK operators.

This, the analysis argues, would give the private sector at least 700,000 operations a year and close to half of the 1.6 million that the government will need to secure so that no patients are waiting longer than 18 weeks for an operation by 2008-2009.

Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has already agreed to commission a second wave of contracts to the private sector. However, he has only agreed a further 250,000 operations. Tenders are expected to be put out to the private sector shortly.

Health secretary, John Reid, promised that the second phase of treatment centres will be offered a guaranteed number of patients to treat when they are opened later this year.

Reid also stated that he is prepared to pay a premium over NHS prices for extra treatments ñ ìalthough that doesn't mean we willî ñ but from 2008, independent centres would have to meet or beat NHS prices.

Critics of independent treatment centres argue that they are creating unused capacity in NHS hospitals. Reports suggest that some hospitals have been told to transfer patients to treatment centres so that the centres receive their quota of patients.

30th September 2008

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