Taxpayers met £20m bill for operations never carried out under private deals with the NHS

TAXPAYERS forked out more than £20m for NHS operations at privately-run treatment centres in the region that were never carried out, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Figures show independent sector treatment centres at Barlborough, near Chesterfield, and Eccleshill, Bradford, never achieved targets under contracts which guaranteed them minimum payments for their work. A third centre in York was narrowly short of its target.

Latest indications suggest the under-performance in Yorkshire is mirrored at 25 centres across the country, opened under a £1.4bn programme launched by Labour in 2003 to slash waiting times, with only around 85-90 per cent of the value of work expected carried out.

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Each was also paid at premium rates 11 per cent above those for NHS hospitals under deals agreed by the Department of Health, leaving the additional bill for taxpayers soaring to levels estimated at £300m more than if the work had been carried out by the NHS.

The figures come ahead of landmark reforms that will open NHS services to more competition amid claims private firms could be offered further premium payments.

Leeds GP Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the “poor value for money” of the treatment centre deals was a clear warning about the use of the private sector.

“This is £300m the NHS could have used but it has been given to private companies instead,” he said.

“The idea by both the previous Labour Government and the coalition that by using the private sector it will somehow reduce costs and drive up quality is completely at variance with the evidence.

“The evidence is that costs go up and quality goes down.

A spokesman for the union Unite said: “This does not augur well for the Government’s plans to basically privatise the NHS by opening an Open Sesame door to private healthcare companies. The public need to wake up very fast to what is going to happen to the NHS.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “There’s no question that the NHS should not have to be paying for operations that aren’t provided. The Government is moving away from the type of contract that ties the NHS into spending money unnecessarily, as well as abandoning the clinically unjustified targets that led to this situation in the first place. These contracts have since been re-let, without this type of guarantee.”

NHS Barnsley, which managed the contract with the Barlborough centre, said: “As the contract was delivered, subsequent improvements in local NHS trust waiting times, along with patient choice over the location at which they wish to be treated, had an effect on utilisation of the contract.”

NHS Bradford and Airedale said the contract in Bradford had been re-tendered with a new firm under the terms of the standard NHS national contract.

“Eccleshill NHS Treatment Centre has helped improve health services for patients, reduce waiting times and improve patient choice,” a spokeswoman added.