An extra 250,000 patients a year could be referred to the private sector under new NHS waiting list rules, an analysis suggests.
According to the Health Service Journal, if the new waiting list plans had been in place over the past year, 250,497 patients on an elective waiting list would have been offered the choice of an alternative provider, which could be one of the private hospital groups.
National waiting times data shows between 10,000 and 25,000 people move past the 26-week mark each month and would have to be offered an alternate provider.
NHS patients already have a choice of provider for their elective care but, under the new rules, NHS providers would be obliged to offer the alternative at an extra point. This could be to another NHS provider or a private one.
Not all of the 250,497 patients passing the 26-week threshold over the course of a year would need an operation but a significant number are orthopaedics procedures, which are high-cost under the tariff, the HSJ found.
In January, of the 25,057 people waiting 26 weeks, 3,602 of them were trauma and orthopaedics patients. Trauma and orthopaedics patients were 34.3% of the NHS-funded caseload for the independent sector in January.
David Hare (pictured), chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said there needs to be a proper national approach to identifying spare capacity and making patients aware of their options well before they hit 26 weeks.
“Patients may then choose to remain with their existing hospital, go to another NHS trust, or go to an independent sector provider – this isn’t about simply moving patients into the independent sector,” he added.