Steve Barclay, Secretary for Health and Social Care, said: “The NHS is facing an unprecedented challenge in addressing Covid delays.
“The hard-working staff have made great progress, but I want to push our current plans forward to eliminate the backlog and help patients get the treatment they need. The task force will look at sensible steps to use all existing capacity to reduce waiting lists and ensure the NHS always remains free at the point of use.”
It comes after the Labor Party drafted proposals to give the public a constitutional right to free health. The plans were defended by Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, who said the NHS must be permanently protected from “hostile” Conservatives who have put access to free healthcare “under threat”.
Whitehall sources said private hospitals would be paid the same as the NHS for fulfilled contracts, in contrast to deals handed out under the last Labor government, in which premium rates were paid to the independent sector.
The new government task force will focus on expanding the use of private sector beds, operating theaters and other settings, such as outpatient clinics, for use by NHS patients.
Private hospital groups have repeatedly said how they have offered to help the NHS reduce waiting lists, but have remained underutilized.
The latest figures show that private hospitals and clinics provide around six per cent of NHS care, delivering around 450,000 appointments in October.
Initiatives to reduce the longest waits have seen NHS patients in Devon being referred for hip and knee replacements at private hospitals in Southampton and Woking, funded by the health service.
‘Using all available capacity’
Will Quince, the health minister, who will chair the task force, said: “We are relentlessly focused on tackling waiting lists and ending Covid backlogs, and this new task force will bring together experts from across the care system. medical.
“Doing so will ensure that we are using all available capacity to improve care in the NHS and the independent sector, and give patients more autonomy over when and where they are treated.”
During the pandemic, private hospitals they were booked in bulk under a national NHS contract with the aim of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed and limiting cancellations of planned treatment. However, despite this, most of the installed capacity during the summer of 2020 was not used.
Sir James Mackey, NHS England’s national director of elective recovery, said: “NHS staff are working incredibly hard to address the Covid backlog at a time of immense pressure on the health service, with significant progress already made, virtually eliminating the two-year wait. for care, and it is vital that we continue to support staff to deliver with patients.
“By maximizing opportunities to offer even more life-saving screening and testing, building on the successes of growing use by the independent sector since the pandemic, we can accelerate diagnoses and continue to reduce waiting lists for routine care.”
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said: “We welcome the establishment of a new task force to see how the NHS can boost its use of the independent sector to address backlog of elective care.”
He said that the use of the private sector had been a major factor in reducing wait times in the 2000s, and he urged the group to learn lessons from that period.