Let private and third sectors cut NHS waiting lists, says Steve Barclay

More private and third sector providers should be used by the NHS to help cut post-Covid waiting lists, Steve Barclay, the health secretary, will say after a review of capacity in the health service.

Barclay will draw on the work of his “elective recovery taskforce” – a group convened by ministers to look at how to bring down waiting times.

The group is chaired by Will Quince, a health minister, along with health policy advisers, NHS England officials, a patients group representative, and four private healthcare executives.

Announcing eight more private sector community diagnostic centres, Barclay said he believed the NHS must “use every available resource to deliver life-saving checks to ease pressure”.

“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.

“The elective recovery taskforce has identified additional diagnostic capacity that is available in the independent sector which we will now use more widely to enable patients to access the care they need quicker.”

There are about 114 NHS diagnostic centres, with those run by private providers due to increase from four to 12. Five of the new centres in the south-west from Cornwall to Bristol will be run by a company called InHealth, founded by a British entrepreneur, Ivan Bradbury.

Barclay’s view on the report was released 12 hours before the document itself was due to be published by the Department of Health and Social Care, which the government said would be a “plan to maximise independent sector capacity to treat NHS patients more quickly”.

The government said its recommended measures would include “better use of data to help the NHS identify potential opportunities for the independent sector to support patient care, and expanding training opportunities for staff”.

It also recommends increasing the use of the private and third sectors in training junior NHS staff.

Quince, who chaired the taskforce, said: “These actions will bolster capacity across the country and give patients more choice over where and when they are treated.”

Labour said 331,000 patients were missing out on treatment because of underuse of the private sector. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “The Conservatives are failing to make use of private sector capacity and patients are paying the price.

“If Labour had been in office since January last year, more than 330,000 people would have received the treatment they desperately need. Instead, patients face record waiting times while the Tories dither and delay.

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“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.”

Stella Vig, the NHS England clinical director for elective care, said the NHS had already increased use of the independent sector by more than a third since April 2021.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said she welcomed the report as GPs would tell patients at the point of referral that they had a choice about where to be treated.

The Conservatives have previously been wary of being criticised for too much private provision in the NHS, with Labour in the past having attacked the party for wanting to privatise the service.

However, Labour has shifted position more recently to acknowledge that private provision is “one of the levers” in reducing the backlog.

The NHS spent about £12bn on commissioning services from the private sector in 2020/21, which is about 7% of the budget.


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