Non-NHS hospitals in England also performed far fewer operations – such as hip and knee replacements – on NHS-funded patients.
This is despite the hospitals agreeing a deal worth about £5bn with government that intended to help stop the health service being overwhelmed by demand during the pandemic.
In March 2020, the Treasury agreed to pay for a deal to book 7,956 beds in England’s 187 private hospitals along with the staff – numbering about 20,000 – at a cost of about £400 million a month.
But, according to a think tank’s report, private hospitals treated no Covid patients at all on 39 per cent of days in the year to March 2021.
A further 20 per cent of days they cared for only one person, according to the report by Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI).
The private hospitals provided only 3,000 of the 3.6m Covid bed days expected over those 13 months.
Sid Ryan, a CHPI researcher who wrote the report, told The Guardian: “Despite the fact that the taxpayer paid undisclosed billions to the private hospital sector, which prevented some of the companies going bust, official data shows they barely treated any Covid patients and delivered less elective work for the NHS than they did prior to the pandemic.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has “repeatedly demonstrated its lack of competence in dealing with the private sector”.
She has urged the DHSC to be “open about how much care private hospitals did provide and try to claw back money for treatment that was paid for but not given”.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We will make no apology for ensuring the NHS has the resources it needs to provide care for patients during a global pandemic.
“The primary aim of the independent sector deal was to treat non-COVID-19 patients, providing urgent cancer services and other life-saving treatments.
“These contracts, provided at cost on a non-profit basis, enabled the provision of nearly 1,200 ventilators, more than 10,000 nurses, over 700 doctors and over 8,000 other clinical staff across England, as well as around 2 million consultations, tests, operations and chemotherapy sessions for NHS patients between March and the end of 2020.”