The private health sector is to gain close to another £1bn worth of work from the NHS as it battles to cut waiting times dramatically by 2008.
A second wave of independent treatment centres, which are privately owned and run but treat NHS patients, are to be put out to tender. They will have the capacity to treat another 250,000 patients a year.
The five-year deal is expected to be worth around £500m a year, according to the department of health. In addition, the department is to purchase some £400m a year of diagnostics X-rays, scans, blood tests and other pathology and radiology services.
The aim is two-fold. It will help remove the “hidden” waiting time between seeing a consultant and a full diagnosis in order to meet the government’s pledge to cut waiting lists. It wants to cut the maximum time between seeing a family doctor and undergoing an operation to 18 weeks by 2008.
The deal will also improve family doctors’ ability to manage chronic diseases by ensuring they have access to swifter and more convenient diagnostic tests. The government is already buying 280,000 operations a year from the private sector and in July it announced a deal to increase the NHS’s capacity for MRI scans by 15 per cent.
Together with the planned treatment centres, the new business will take the amount the independent sector earns from the NHS each year towards the £1.5bn a year mark.
Once the new capacity is operational, the amount the independent sector earns from the NHS will have grown by 65 per cent on the £2.3bn earned in 2003.
If the amount surgeons and anaesthetists earn from operating privately is included, the rise will have been 45 per cent