Private heart ops deal for NHS patients agreed by minister
The Welsh NHS is paying for some cardiac patients to be treated at a private clinic in Bristol to reduce the waiting list, it has emerged.
It comes as surgeons in Wales say they are still waiting for answers over what is being done about heart patients dying while waiting for operations.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) wrote to Health Inspectorate Wales (HIW) in July last year.
Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM has accused ministers of "hypocrisy".
The Welsh government said it had agreed the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (WHSSC) could buy cardiac surgery services from Spire Hospital, Bristol, and three NHS facilities in England until 30 September.
Health Minister Mark Drakeford has given his consent to a deal by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (WHSSC), hosted by Cwm Taf, involving about 80 patients from south Wales.
WHSSC interim director Stephen Harrhy said: "We have commissioned extra capacity in England this financial year and in 2014-15 to help reduce long waiting times for patients in south Wales.
"Cardiologists are reviewing their patients to identify those most at risk and offer them the alternative option of treatment in Bristol, Birmingham or London. Patients will also continue to be treated in south Wales.
"We know the quality of cardiac surgery in south Wales is excellent and outcomes for patients are very good but we need to increase capacity to meet current and future demand.
"We have a medium-term plan to increase both surgical and critical care capacity in south Wales and we are committed to a two-year plan to reduce waiting times."
In 2011, the Welsh government said local health boards should explore all possible ways of meeting targets, including private clinics, in the separate field of orthopaedic surgery.
But the then health minister Lesley Griffiths said the private sector should only be considered in the short term as a "last option".
Mr Millar said the cardiac surgery deal signed off by the current health minister was the "height of cynicism and hypocrisy".
He said: "This is an admission that there are severe problems in meeting the demand for cardiac services in Wales and that the Royal College of Surgeons is right that patients are dying waiting too long for treatment.
"The Royal College of Surgeons first raised these concerns six months ago and Labour ministers simply sat on their hands.
"Yet on the very day that the Royal College of Surgeons raises further concerns in the media, the Welsh Labour government slips out information about a contract with a private hospital in Bristol, despite its previous ideological pledge to keep the independent sector out of the NHS."
News of the deal emerged as the RCS returned to its concerns saying it was still waiting for answers over what is being done.
HIW has said it will respond in due course.
The University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff and Morriston Hospital in Swansea are the two centres in Wales where heart patients who need specialist treatment and cardiac surgery are referred.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: "The quality of cardiac surgery in south Wales is very good as are the outcomes for patients.
"However, we also know there is not enough capacity to meet current demand which is why we have already put in place a number of immediate steps to speed up treatment, including offering patients treatment at other cardiac centres and undertaking surgery at weekend.
"In the longer term we are further investing in increase capacity to Wales."
The concern over heart patients follows a row over whether an inquiry is needed into death rates at Welsh hospitals in general.