Hard-up NHS hospitals are doing record numbers of private operations to stay afloat.
Figures show their income from private patients rose 12% last year – with a further 10% rise forecast for the next 12 months, according to a report in the Daily Mirror newspaper.
Worried doctors fear the figures reveal the Tories are creating a two-tier NHS – with those who pay gobbling up scarce resources.Under the controversial NHS shake-up, hospitals can now earn up to 50% of income from private work.
A Freedom of Information request by Labour MP Gareth Thomas revealed English NHS hospitals earned £434million from private patients in 2012/13, up £47million in a year.Hospitals are forecasting they will earn even more this year (2013/14), raking in some £480million from private work.
Ealing Hospital in London, where the A&E department is under threat, increased the amount it got from private patient income by 250% in the last two years, while the world-famous Great Ormond Street hospital saw a 58% rise.
The local hospital of Health Minister Anna Soubry, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, has budgeted for a 30% increase next year. MP Thomas, who unearthed the figures, said: “Our hospitals are seeing a huge rise in the amount of money they receive from private patients.
“With yet more increases to come this year, it’s clear that under David Cameron a two-tier health service is emerging; pay privately and you’ll be seen quickly - don’t pay privately and join an increasingly long waiting list.” He said there was growing evidence that patients are being forced to go private because they are being turned away from the NHS or spending so long on waiting lists.
Last year more than 52,000 patients in England were denied routine operations because of the financial pressures on the NHS. This included people waiting for common procedures such as cataract operations and varicose veins treatment. Admissions for cataract operations have fallen by 3,307 a year since the Government came to power in 2010, the number being treated for varicose veins is down 8,842 and admissions for skin lesions fell 22,942.
Dr Clive Peedell, co-leader of the National Health Action Party, said lifting the cap on private treatments would see a rise in waiting NHS lists.
“This is part of a wider increase in private health care in England," he told the Daily Mirror.
“It is a reflection of the huge financial strain on hospitals. The only way to survive and stop from going bankrupt is to increase the number of private patients.
“We are heading to a two-tier system with consultants having to decide who takes priority: do they see private or NHS patients first.
“The knock on effect will be increased waiting lists as the NHS only has a limited capacity and if they treat private patients that pushes other patients out of the system."
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham added: “It is scandalous hospitals built with taxpayers’ money are used for the priority treatment of those prepared to pay.
"David Cameron is privatising our NHS and Labour will expose it and stop it.”
But a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “These figures need to be put in context. The private income quoted is less than 0.5% of the NHS budget for 2013/14.
“This income must be reinvested back into NHS services and patients will benefit from increased investment in facilities and new technology.
"The Health and Social Care Act ensures that services for NHS patients will always come first and that the responsibility of any NHS organisation is to provide NHS services and any private work is supplementary.
“Any patient should be seen in order of clinical priority. Average waiting times are low and stable, and the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks is nearly 55,000 lower than in May 2010.”