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Private hospitals are delivering for the first time more hip and knee replacements than the NHS since procedures were widely introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the NHS remains focused on Covid-19, independent hospital chains include Circle Health Group, Nuffield Health, HCA Healthcare and Spire Healthcare have doubled the number of privately paid patients, according to an analysis of official figures by healthcare consultant Candesic for the Financial Times.

Although the total number of hip and knee surgeries remains lower than in 2019, the research found that 56 percent of the total surgeries performed in the first eight months of this year were performed in private hospitals, compared to 40 percent in the same period two years ago.

Candelleic analyst Michelle Tempest said it was a ‘watershed’ moment showing more people ‘choosing to go private’. ‘There is a shift going on and we are seeing the consumption of healthcare; people start shopping and some choose to go private as waiting lists continue to increase. ”

Hip and knee surgeries was traditionally the “bread and butter” of private hospitals, with outsourcing the work of the NHS an important part of their business model. But the number of NHS patients treated in their facilities has dropped dramatically from 27 percent of the total volume in 2019 to 18 percent in 2021.

The switch from NHS work to privately paying patients comes despite long waiting lists for treatment and an agreement last year when the government paid all the hourshospital operations, interest, rent and staff costs in exchange for their assistance during the public emergency. The government has not yet announced the cost.

David Rowland, director of the independent think tank of the Center for Health and Public Interest, said the private hospital could not deliver this level of activity without thousands of NHS consultants working in their spare time.

“It must be difficult for the 5.3 million people on the NHS waiting lists to know that NHS employees are spending their time treating patient-paying patients rather than helping to clean up the NHS backlog,” he said.

Although most private surgeries are still paid for through insurance schemes, the greatest growth was in patients paying a prepayment for their surgery, especially in areas where NHS hospitals were slow to repair non-emergency surgeries. The price of a hip or knee replacement varies between £ 8,000 and £ 15,000, depending on the supplier and location.

Private hospital operators prefer self-paying patients, as the margins are higher than for outsourced NHS work. “Everyone in the sector is having a difficult year for self-payment,” said a private hospital operator. ‘All private hospitals are fairly full and are looking at how they can increase productivity, for example by opening weekend evenings. If you run a private hospital for profit, you want as much self-compensation as possible. ”

Circle Health Group, which has merged with BMI to become Britain’s largest private hospital operator, said it was using MRI scanners on the backs of trucks in hospital car parks to offset the increase in demand. It is also expanding two of its hospitals this autumn with modular, factory-built theaters as part of a £ 100 million investment program.

Spire, the only private hospital company in the UK, with 40 hospitals nationwide already reported an 81 percent increase in self-paid income in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the second quarter of 2019.

Growth in the private sector may be limited by a lack of operational theater capacity, as well as staff, most of whom work for the NHS. However, two of the U.S.’s largest hospital chains – the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic – are planning to expand in the UK, with Cleveland planning to hire his own doctors in a break with the model used by the rest of the private hospital.

The research shows that NHS hospitals with electrical surgery, such as hips and knees, started very differently, while some regions, such as in south-west London, performed only 10 per cent of the surgeries they had done before the crisis.

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