A hospital trust that is bidding for foundation status has bought a private hospital wing to help it continue to hit the 18-week maximum waiting time target.
East Kent Hospitals trust now owns all the shares of the company that runs a 22-bed wing on the same site as its Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.
The news came as another trust, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals, confirmed it was in discussion with Nuffield Hospitals to buy a private hospital on one of its sites.
East Kent Hospitals is one of the trusts designated an "early achiever" of the 18-week waiting target. Chief executive Stuart Bain told HSJ that the trust, which has a success rate of around 90 per cent against the 18-week target, has been contracting about half of the capacity of the private unit, known as the Spencer Wing, for its own NHS work.
Mr Bain said the trust intended to maintain the wing as a "wholly owned but separate company", the main difference being that where before profits would have been kept by the private company, they would now be returned to the NHS.
He said: "My personal belief is that it should have a positive impact [on the foundation trust bid] - it demonstrates that we've been thinking imaginatively and in a businesslike way for the benefit of patients."
Earlier this year, Unison launched judicial review proceedings against foundation trust regulator Monitor in a bid to stop trusts using arm's-length organisations to expand private patient work. Unison head of health Karen Jennings said buying up private hospitals in the wake of the judicial review was "cavalier".
A spokesman for Monitor said it planned to launch a consultation on the private income cap in June.