PRIVATE hospitals have received more than £2.5million for treating East Lancashire NHS patients since 2012, compared to just £83,000 in the previous two years.

The Royal Blackburn and Burnley General Hospitals have shelled out for hundreds of patients to be treated at the Beardwood and Gisburn Park hospitals, both run by private healthcare giant BMI.

Over the last five years, the number of NHS beds and staff have not been increased in line with the rising number of patients needing treatment, which has led to the huge increase in referrals to private care.

Figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph through Freedom of Information laws showed that between April 2012 and March 2014, more than £900,000 was spent on sending chronic pain patients to the BMI hospitals.

General surgery procedures accounted for about £800,000, while about £450,000 was spent on gastroenterology patients.

About £450,000 was spent on opthalomology and orthopaedic patients, while urology and head and neck patients accounted for about £50,000.

It comes as shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called on the government to halt any further ‘privatisation’ of the NHS until next year’s general election, as there should be a ‘proper debate’ about the use of private firms.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said it had sent patients to BMI hospitals to avoid missing national targets for patients with non-urgent problems to be treated within 18 weeks.

Bosses said they worked hard to clear a backlog of patients last year, which means no patients have been referred privately since April.

Gill Simpson, divisional general manager at ELHT, said: “It is sometimes necessary to refer a small number of patients to private hospitals, for example, to ensure their treatment begins within 18 weeks.”

“Since April this year the trust has not referred any patients to private hospitals for surgery or treatment, and we are working hard to ensure we have the resources in place to maintain this situation in the future.”

A spokesman for NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, which funds the hospitals, said: “The cost of treatment, whether the patient is treated privately or by an NHS provider, is the same as this is dictated by national tariff.”