The independent sector has freed capacity for over 250,000 additional surgical operations and diagnostic tests to help support the NHS between December and March next year, in order to help it meet demand over the winter.

The move adds to the tens of thousands of procedures already scheduled to be delivered by private providers to ensure that patients are not faced with unnecessarily long waits.

The news comes as a poll commissioned by NHS Partners Network - which represents independent sector providers of NHS clinical services - reveals that 74 percent of British adults agree that waiting times in the NHS are too long, and only 20% think the government is doing enough to address the issue.

More than seven in ten respondents said that as long as care remains free at the point of use, the NHS should lean on private sector providers to help alleviate pressure on its hospitals during the winter months, while 73 percent agree that if waiting times at local hospitals exceed 18 weeks, they would choose to receive care at a private hospital delivering NHS care.

Findings of the poll come hot on the heels of the latest batch of NHS performance data, which shows that patients continue to face long waiting times this winter, ringing warning bells that the service is in danger of a meltdown caused by surging demand, a potential strike by junior doctors, and staff shortages.

“The public are telling us that we are failing patients if we do not strain every sinew over winter to utilise all available capacity across the health and care system to help ensure timely access to services,” said the Network’s chief executive David Hare. “It is not acceptable that patients are left to wait over 18 weeks for treatment while available capacity goes unused”.  

“We hope that this additional independent sector capacity over the winter months will be welcomed by patients and their families who need access to vital NHS services”.

A spokesperson for NHS England told PharmaTimes: “We have an established programme of work together with NHS Improvement to manage demand effectively across the NHS and ensure we make the most of extra capacity offered by the Independent Sector. We will continue to work closely with NHS trusts to alleviate pressure and help reduce waiting times for patients”.