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NHS paid £5.14m for private operations

PUBLISHED: 08:26 19 February 2009 | UPDATED: 21:26 07 July 2010

Private hospitals are being paid millions of pounds a year to treat patients in Norfolk because local NHS hospitals cannot meet demand.

The amount paid for private treatments has tripled in the past year.

Private hospitals are being paid millions of pounds a year to treat patients in Norfolk because local NHS hospitals cannot meet demand.

The amount paid for private treatments has tripled in the past year. Many of the treatments are orthopaedic work, such as hip replacements, because the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has not been able to do them all.

NHS Norfolk paid £5.14m to private hospitals between April and December last year for 1,137 operations. Although it was just a nine-month period, more than twice the number of operations than in the whole of the 2007-8 year were done and the bill more than doubled.

In 2007-8 there were 453 private operations costing £2.09m.

The private hospitals used included the Spire Hospitals in Norwich and Cambridge, BMI hospitals at Sandringham and Bury St Edmunds, and Nuffield hospital in Cambridge.

At Yarmouth and Waveney, the bill was much lower but also showed an increase - £270,308 for the nine months to December, compared with £261,134 for the whole of the previous year.

The biggest payments were to Spire Hospitals but across both periods there was a total of £118,000 paid to London Hyperbaric Medicine, which specialises in treating divers with the bends, and £58,000 to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out abortions.

The government has been encouraging local health trusts to use a wider range of hospitals, and its target for treating all referrals within 18 weeks has added to pressure to treat patients privately. This winter Norfolk's hospitals have run out of beds on a number of occasions.

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson said: “They are playing within the rules, but I would rather have more beds and treat them in the public sector. I do think they need more beds and more nurses, and then it would stop this problem.”

Louise Browning, assistant director of planned care at NHS Norfolk, said that patients could choose to be referred to a private hospital at the point of referral with their GP.

She said: “The orthopaedic referral management team based at NHS Norfolk's headquarters also offer, to appropriate patients, the choice of a number of independent sector providers in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire for their ortho-paedic treatment.

She said that private providers had been commissioned since November 2007, “because of the high demand for elective orthopaedics which cannot be met by the N&N, within the target 18-week referral-to-treatment time-scale…”

Mike Stonard, chief executive of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said: “This extra competition helps ensure standards of care remain high while giving patients extra choice about where and when they receive their treatment.

“All treatments are paid for in line with NHS tariffs, regardless of whether they are commissioned from the private or public sector, which helps us ensure we are getting the best possible value for money for our community.”


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