Independent providers carry out four times the proportion of elective procedures in some regions as in others, HSJ analysis reveals.

The figures were extracted from the full year hospital episode statistics for 2011-12, published last week by the NHS Information Centre.

The document showed the proportion of NHS funded elective admissions including a procedure carried out by an independent provider increased from 4 per cent to 4.3 per cent across England between 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Analysis by HSJ found this proportion ranged from 1.6 per cent in London to 6.8 per cent in the East Midlands.

The three most common NHS-funded procedures carried out by private providers were upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, cataract surgery and knee cartilage operations.

NHS Partners Network director David Worskett told HSJ there was “no doubt” some of the variation was a reflection of the “open-mindedness and interest in using the independent sector on the part of commissioners and referrers”.

However, he said this was unlikely to be the whole explanation as the East of England, known for its openness to working with the private sector, had below average use of the independent sector and the availability of alternatives was likely to be the other key driver.

“For example, there are significant numbers of independent sector treatment centres in the Midlands and the South West and fewer in the north of England,” he added.

Independent treatment centres were set up early in the last decade in areas requiring extra capacity to tackle long waiting lists. In 2011-12, they accounted for at least 37 per cent of procedures funded by the health service but undertaken outside the NHS.

Southampton City was the primary care trust with the highest proportion of procedures carried out privately, with 31.5 per cent.

Care UK’s Southampton NHS treatment centre carried out 14,604 NHS procedures in 2011-12. Only Nottingham NHS treatment centre, run by Nations Healthcare, had more with 25,241.

In 2011-12, private providers treated more than 345,200 NHS elective admissions with a procedure, an 11 per cent increase on 2010-11.

Proportion of work by independent sector
RegionProcedures carried out by independent providers% of total NHS elective admissions
East Midlands45,7196.8
South West56,8496.7
South Central34,1146.5
South East Coast31,6356.4
Yorkshire and Humber37,4114.4
North West45,8264.2
East of England36,3943.8
North East18,3293.4
West Midlands21,4302.6