The newspapers regularly carry headlines warning about the ‘privatisation of the NHS’. So how much patient care is being outsourced? The respected health think tank, the King’s Fund, has looked at the figures.
In the seven years since 2006-7, the proportion of NHS patients treated by non-NHS hospitals as in-patients has risen from around 0.5% (73, 000) to 2.6% (471, 000) of all in-patients (which totalled over 18 million in 2013-14). For outpatient care, the proportion treated by non-NHS providers has risen faster – from 0.2% (123,000) to 5.5% (4.5 million).
Orthopaedics (hip and knee replacements) tops the type of in-patient activity carried out by non-NHS providers, accounting for around one in eight episodes of care. If rates of growth since 2006-7 continue over the next 20 years, non-NHS providers could account for one in five of all outpatient attendances and approaching one in ten inpatient episodes paid for by the NHS.
Would this matter? Surely it is the quality of patient care and the efficiency with which it is delivered that counts?