Private hospitals not giving NHS value for moneyMPs say flagship scheme has not cut waiting lists

25 July 2006

The government's drive to send NHS patients for treatment in private hospitals has failed to cut waiting times or save money, an influential group of MPs said today.

The government has spent billions on contracting private centres to carry out common procedures such as cataract operations and hip replacements, but the Health Select Committee said they've failed to provide the extra capacity promised.

It said it was not convinced the hospitals and clinics, officially termed independent sector treatment centres (ISTCs), provide better value for money compared with NHS hospitals and said NHS centres could provide the same treatment for less money.

It also criticised the government for failing to 'systematically assess' the impact of the centres.

The government introduced ISTCs in 2002 to treat patients needing straightforward treatment or operations in an effort to provide extra capacity, reduce waiting lists and times and drive up standards through competition.

Hospital closure warning

But the committee said the Department of Health had failed to show the programme was achieving those objectives.

Waiting times have fallen since the introduction of ISTCs, but the committee said this was more likely due to the additional NHS spending and the intense focus placed on waiting lists.

It attacked the Department for failing to assess the impact of ISTCs on competition in the NHS and for failing to collect data on standards of care in the private centres versus NHS hospitals.

Committee Chairman Kevin Barron said: 'It is difficult to say how the ISTCs have affected either patients or the NHS, due to the lack of any systematic assessment.'

The committee also warned against further investment in ISTCs fearing the expansion will have a significant effect on the finances of NHS hospitals which could lead to closures.

The (BMA) welcomed the report and said it hoped it would stop the government from signing new deals with the private sector.

Major worries

BMA consultant leader, Dr Paul Miller, said, 'It is good that unlike the government, the Health Committee is listening to the BMA's major worries about ISTCs.

'For the last three years, the BMA has been shouting from the rooftops about its concerns regarding ISTCs. We have been worried about their effect on local hospital economies, about the vast amount of money being squandered in setting them up rather than investing these much needed funds in the NHS and about the lack of any real systemic assessment of their effectiveness.'