NHS England has agreed to commission a “significant range and volume” of planned care from private hospitals over the coming months.
The commitment comes following the failure of a national push to clear NHS waiting list backlogs in recent months.
The health body, as well as national health services regulator Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) have promised to underwrite hospital trusts’ spending on referrals to private providers that they would not otherwise be able to fund.
A Monitor spokesman said that £30m of as yet unallocated money from £250m set aside to ease waiting lists would be used to pay for approximately 30,000 procedures between December and March 2015.
The spokesman added: “Patients will only be offered the choice to transfer (to a private provider) if it is clinically appropriate.”
In a report to an NHS England board meeting, the national body’s chief executive Simon Stevens stated: “It is… apparent that NHS providers have not uniformly been able to deliver the extra volumes of elective activity they contracted to provide during the autumn.
“So the TDA, Monitor and NHS England will now be working with individual hospitals that have not met their commitments to ensure that patients on their waiting lists are offered alternative treatment options, funded from the original £250m allocation.”
A performance report to the same meeting added: “There is evidence that not all the activity NHS trusts agreed has been delivered during the months June-November when the backlog reduction was to take place. We continue to work with NHS trusts, but we have also agreed a significant range and volume of activity to be delivered by the Independent Sector over the coming months.”
Action would be taken, it said, to ensure expected standards are met on a sustainable basis where they have not been delivered.