Britain turns to private sector to cut NHS waiting lists

Government will open 13 new centres across England to carry out scans, checks and tests

Thirteen new diagnostic centres will open across England with the capacity to carry out an additional 742,000 scans, checks and tests per year. Getty Images
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Britain is turning to the private sector in an attempt to cut NHS waiting lists.

The government plans to draft in corporate providers as it expands a rapid diagnosis programme.

Thirteen new diagnostic centres will open across England with the capacity to carry out an additional 742,000 scans, checks and tests per year, according to a statement released on Thursday.

The bulk of the clinics, eight in total, will be operated by the private sector, although services will be free to patients. The rest will be run by the NHS.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We must use every available resource to deliver life-saving checks to ease pressure on the NHS.

“By making use of the available capacity in the independent sector, and enabling patients to access this diagnostic capacity free at the point of need, we can offer patients a wider choice of venues to receive treatment and in doing so diagnose major illnesses quicker and start treatments sooner.”

Figures released last month revealed NHS waiting lists stood at 7.47 million at the end of May, the highest number since records began in 2007.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said the new centres could help to bring down the number of people waiting for treatment. But she said the situation may get worse before it gets better.

"We probably expect, in all honesty, for it to peak in the next few months," she told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Friday.

Private centres will operate similarly to their NHS counterparts, the Government said, but staff will be employed by private operators, which also own the buildings.

Sites in the South-West – located in Redruth, Bristol, Torbay, Yeovil and Weston-super-Mare – will be operated by diagnostics company InHealth.

Other private facilities will be located in Southend, Northampton and south Birmingham and join four already operating in Brighton, north Solihull, Oxford and Salford.

The new NHS-run sites are in Hornchurch, Skegness, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent.

The government pledged to open 160 CDCs by 2030. There are currently 114 operating, which have carried out 4.6 million tests, checks and scans since July 2021.

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A number of other measures to use capacity in the private sector have been outlined by the Elective Recovery Taskforce, which was set up in December.

These include using data from private health providers to identify where they could take on more NHS patients to help clear backlogs. They will also look at using the private sector to train junior NHS staff.

Health minister and Elective Recovery Taskforce chair Will Quince added: “We have already made significant progress in bringing down waiting lists, with 18-month waits virtually eliminated.

“I chaired the Elective Recovery Taskforce to turbocharge these efforts and help patients get the treatment they need.

“These actions will bolster capacity across the country and give patients more choice over where and when they are treated.”

However, Labour said the Government was not making enough use of private capacity.

The party claims 331,000 patients waiting for NHS care could have been treated since January 2022.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, said: “The Conservatives are failing to make use of private sector capacity and patients are paying the price.

“No one should be waiting in pain while hospital beds that could be used lie empty. The next Labour government will use spare capacity in the private sector to get patients seen faster.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to bring waiting lists down earlier this year, but last month he said industrial action across the NHS was making the task “more challenging”.

Junior doctors are preparing for another four-day strike starting on August 11 in their continuing row with the Government over pay. Consultants are set to walk out for 48 hours on August 24.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 9:13 AM