One pound in every £10 spent by the NHS on healthcare in Sussex is going to private companies.

Figures obtained by The Argus under the Freedom of Information Act reveal more than £267m was paid out in one year to private firms to treat NHS patients.

Treatments include abortions, routine hip and knee replacement operations, cataract surgery, treatment for digestive problems and MRI scans.

Campaign groups and unions say the figure is likely to rise as a result of the controversial shake-up of the NHS, which means more services are likely to be contracted out.

They warn patients will be affected, with companies focusing more on profit than healthcare.
The money can range from large contracts such as running walk-in centres to smaller payments to local private hospitals to carry out minor operations and cut down on waiting lists.

The money spent is 10% of the £2.7bn used on healthcare services by NHS Sussex between April 2011 and March 2012.

Brighton and Hove spent £61m, East Sussex Downs and Weald £66.5m, West Sussex £125m and Hastings and Rother £14m.

In the autumn it emerged that hearing aid services currently provided by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust have been put out to tender and are to be provided by a private company.

Virgin Care took over the running of some physiotherapy sessions at local clinics and GP surgeries in the Hastings and Rother areas in September.

They had previously been run by East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. However a reversal of fortunes led to the Sussex Othopaedic Treatment Centre in Haywards Heath coming back under NHS control last year.

The centre, which carries out routine hip and knee replacement operations, had been run by private companies since it opened in 2007.

During this time it was criticised in a review by a Government watchdog when inspectors raised concerns about some operating theatre procedures and decontamination methods.

However improvements have been made since then. The Brighton and Sussex hospitals trust took over the contract in April.

Paul Evans from the Brighton- based NHS Support Federation lobby group, said: “We are seeing a vast expansion in the private sector providing treatments to NHS patients.

“Government changes mean there are now huge profits to be made. The impact upon the NHS will be damaging as it will lose out on vital funding when cuts are already creating huge pressure.

“We have already seen evidence of corner-cutting from private companies, causing delays and poorer quality care for patients. Patients trust the NHS because it put their needs first. We must avoid an NHS led by the market and controlled by big business.”

Tony Reynolds of the Central Sussex Patients Forum said: “If using a private provider means a patient has their scan, or operation or any other treatment more quickly, then that can only be something to welcome.

“However it is something that needs to be watched carefully.

“A private provider is a company that needs to cover costs and make money and that should never get in the way of patient care.”

A spokesman for NHS Sussex said: “We are committed to ensuring that our patients receive safe and effective health services, and that they can receive them in a timely way where and when they need treatment.

“Occasionally this can be in the form of working with non NHS providers, however in these cases the services are still NHS services and are free for patients.”