SOUTHEND Hospital has paid private hospitals more than £3million to carry out almost 1,000 operations in just one year.

The hospital outsourced 971 operations, including hysterectomies, cataract operations, hernia repairs and orthopaedic procedures from January 2015/16 to 2016/17.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request by the Echo. The Essex hospitals used by the trust include Spire Wellesley, Nuffield, BMI and Ramsey Healthcare.

In contrast, Basildon Hospital said it had farmed out “less than five” joint operations to Hartswood Hospital, Brentwood. The hospital was unable to give a figure for the cost of the operations but said it mitigated waiting times through offering operations during weekends and additional sessions mid-week.

There are signs, however, that Basildon Hospital is likely to follow Southend.

A spokesman said: “Managing demand is challenging. In addition to maximising our resources internally we are also currently considering other options, including collaboration with private hospitals.”

Yvonne Blucher, Southend Hospital’s managing director, said: “The main areas outsourced were orthopaedics, ophthalmology and urology. These procedures were outsourced to ensure patients received treatment as quickly as possible and to create capacity for urgent cases, such as cancer patients.

“The trust began an outsourcing programme in March 2016 due to the sustained emergency pressures on our beds. This affected our ability to admit patients requiring elective procedures, the programme was supported by both Southend and Castle Point clinical commissioning groups.”

Ms Blucher added: “Southend Hospital met its control target of £15.8 million deficit as set out by NHS Improvement for the last financial year, which concluded at the end of March.”

Private hospitals carried out 254 eye operations and procedures for orthopaedic conditions totalled 352.

The urology department delegated 169 operations to private hospitals and 88 general surgery cases were dealt with outside the NHS. The reasons given for the outsourcing included patient request, reduction of backlogs and to make room for cancer patients.

The outsourced operations included admitted and non-admitted patients. The majority having waited beyond an 18-week target but some were referred privately before 18 weeks. Neither of the hospitals were able to identify how many doctors were carrying out private work.

A spokesperson for Southend Hospital said: “The trust does not keep a record of doctors and consultants who carry out private work.”

Basildon Hospital said it was informed on doctors who carry out private work.

A spokesman said: “Trust consultants are eligible to provide care in the private sector in their own time, as per the current NHS consultant contract. They are required to inform their responsible officer at Basildon Hospital about their full scope of clinical practice, however the trust does not hold this information centrally.”


A CAMPAIGN group is growing increasingly concerned about the rise in using private hospitals to carry out NHS work.

Norman Traub, a former consultant at Southend Hospital and member of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, said: “Southend Hospital does not state why NHS hospitals are unable to perform these operations.

"There are two aspects to this. The first is that successive governments are bent on the policy of privatisation of the NHS. Under Tony Blair’s Labour government, the policy of outsourcing operations to private hospitals was started and it intensified under the Tory/ Lib coalition and now under the Tories. By 2012-13 nearly 19 per cent of NHS funded hip and knee replacements were being done in private hospitals. By 2014, NHS patients accounted for a quarter of admissions for surgery in private hospitals. 

“The second aspect of NHS hospitals outsourcing patients to private hospitals is that the NHS has been deliberately underfunded for the last seven years and this underfunding will continue till 2020. As you know there is a financial black hole of £22billion in the NHS finances by 2020-21. The NHS is in crisis and not being able to operate on enough of its patients awaiting routine surgery is part of the crisis.

Mr Traub said agency spending figures were also worrying. He added: “There has been a decrease in agency spending but they are still spending a considerable amount, and the problem with agency staff is that they still have to recruit – they aren’t permanent. 

“It is good the vacancy rate is going down but the fact there are so many means it is a problem. The vacancies they have been unable to fill is not a good sign. That’s why they recruit agency staff, if they could recruit enough, they wouldn’t need to.”