Private Medical Treatment – numbers

Almost one in five NHS patients seen in secondary care now treated by private firms, after Labour’s ‘patient choice’ reforms led to an expansion in the independent healthcare market, a report by the Nuffield Trust and the Institute of Fiscal Studies concludes.  But as John Lister writes “These figures are evidence of private sector expansion but need to be treated with caution: they only relate to elective treatment – and in fact the study only looks in detail at three elective treatments (hip replacement, gall bladder removal & hernia), with a grand total Independent Sector Treatment Centre provision of 24,000 episodes between them.

By contrast the NHS dealt with 9.8 million elective admissions and 5.2 million emergencies. ISTCs did 12,000 hip operations: the NHS handles 856,000 operations on “bones & joints” each year.

0% of emergencies are seen by the private sector, and on none of the categories of elective treatment analysed do the figures go above 17%: gall bladder ops are just 6%.

The percentage of outpatient activity in the private sector is even smaller: so to claim that 20% of NHS patients are “now treated by private firms” is just grossly inaccurate and misleading.

All this use of private providers is expensive, wasteful and undermines the proper provision of a comprehensive health service. It is a terrible legacy from a Labour government that could have spent the money and the time to strengthen public sector provision and protecting it against the ravages of the Tories and their LibDem sidekicks.

But let’s not allow the false, defeatist picture to be generated that suggests the NHS is already largely privatised. This does not help us defend what are still vital public services, few of which would be offered by private providers unless they could screw additional funding from government over and above the NHS tariff.