NHS use of private sector rising
The number of routine NHS operations and treatments carried out by the private sector has risen by more than 10% in a year, official figures show.
The data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed that private providers treated 345,200 non-emergency NHS patients in 2011-12, a 32,900 rise on the previous year.
These were for planned care, such as knee and cataract operations.
The figure represents 4.3% of all the routine NHS treatments.
The rise is partly explained by a jump in the number of people needing non-emergency treatments as well as reflecting a shift towards more people choosing to use private providers - something they are entitled to do under patient choice.
'Highest quality services'
The figures showed the number of non-emergency procedures carried out by the NHS rose from 7.7m to 8m over the past year.
The 4.3% figure was up from 4% on the year before.
Health Minister Lord Howe said: "The crucial thing here is that patients have access to the highest quality services possible. Letting patients choose how and where they are treated is not new.
"We want to give patients more choice about where, when and how they can access their health services and these figures show that patients are making decisions about services that meet their needs.
"Private hospitals have to comply with exactly the same quality and safety regulation and contractual standards as any NHS provider."