The Government has turned to private sector capacity in a bid to cut NHS waiting lists.
Thirteen new community diagnostic centres (CDCs) will be opened across England to carry out an additional 742,000 scans, checks and tests per year. Eight of the new facilities will be operated by the private sector — although services will be free to patients — and five will be run by the NHS.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: "We must use every available resource to deliver life-saving checks to ease pressure on the NHS."
Recently released figures revealed NHS waiting lists stood at 7.47 million at the end of May, up from 7.42 million in April, and the highest number since records began in 2007.
Private centres will operate similarly to their NHS counterparts, the Government said, but staff will be employed by private operators, which also own the buildings.
Sites in the South West — located in Redruth, Bristol, Torbay, Yeovil, and Weston Super Mare — will be operated by diagnostics company InHealth. Other private facilities will also be located in Southend, Northampton, and south Birmingham and join four already operating in Brighton, north Solihull, Oxford, and Salford.
The new NHS-run sites are in Hornchurch, Skegness, Lincoln, Nottingham, and Stoke-on-Trent.
The Government pledged to open 160 CDCs by 2030. There are currently 114 operating, which have carried out 4.6 million tests, checks, and scans since July 2021.
Elective Recovery Taskforce
A number of other measures to use capacity in the private sector have been outlined by the Elective Recovery Taskforce, which was set up in December 2022. These include using data from private health providers to identify where they could take on more NHS patients to help clear backlogs. They will also look at using the private sector to train junior NHS staff.
Health minister and taskforce chair Will Quince added: "We have already made significant progress in bringing down waiting lists, with 18 month waits virtually eliminated. I chaired the Elective Recovery Taskforce to turbocharge these efforts and help patients get the treatment they need. These actions will bolster capacity across the country and give patients more choice over where and when they are treated."
However, Labour said the Government is currently not making enough use of private capacity. The party claims 331,000 patients waiting for NHS care could have been treated since January 2022. Shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said: "No-one should be waiting in pain while hospital beds that could be used lie empty. The next Labour government will use spare capacity in the private sector to get patients seen faster."
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to bring waiting lists down earlier this year, but last month he said industrial action across the NHS is making the task "more challenging".
Junior doctors are currently preparing for another 4-day strike on 11 August in their ongoing row with the Government over pay, with consultants set to walk out for 48 hours on 24 August.