Published: 10/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5850 Page 6 7

Early indications are that the number of NHS patients treated in the private sector leapt even higher than usual in March.

Although Independent Healthcare Association figures are not yet available, HSJ has been told that it seems likely the number of patients treated in March may have been significantly higher even than the traditional end-offinancial-year peak.

Most recent figures released by IHA, up to February, revealed the number of NHS patients treated in the private sector over the past year had risen only steadily, despite the pressure from the centre to hit end-of-year targets and use the private sector more.

The figures revealed an average increase in inpatient episodes of around 500 per month, year-on-year between 2001-02 and 2002-03.

Day cases fell in the first part of the year, but recovered towards the end to show a small year-onyear decline.

Although the rise in inpatient episodes is an increase of around a third in the number of NHS patients treated privately each month, the growth in private sector activity under the NHS concordat with the independent sector is relatively small compared with NHS activity as a whole.

An IHA spokesperson said: 'We are not seeing a dramatic increase in NHS patients using independent hospitals.'

He added: 'The independent sector still believes it could double that number year in, year out.'