THE Welsh Government is to pay for a private company in England to provide heart surgery for patients in Wales.

The news of the contract with Spire Hospital in Bristol comes as the prime minister called for the Welsh Government to get its act together on the NHS.

According to the Welsh Government website Mark Drakeford, health minister, had agreed to enter into a short term contract, running until September 30, with the English private hospital for cardiac surgery services.

It is understood cardiologists will be making the decisions about who is offered the referrals and it is likely Gwent patients, who are currently treated in either Cardiff or Swansea, will be among those affected.

The extra capacity which is understood to also include NHS hospitals in Birmingham and London is being used this financial year and next to meet the demand in Wales. 

It also emerged on Tuesday that the Royal College of Surgeons had written to the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales to ask for an update on whether its concerns on cardiac surgery waiting times have been addressed.

It had originally raised concerns last summer about a high number of patients dying while waiting for cardiac surgery.

Darren Millar AM, shadow minister for health and social services, said: “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.

“This is the height of cynicism and hypocrisy and shows that this lazy Labour Government has to be shamed into acting in the best interests of patients.”

A spokesman for the health minister Mark Drakeford fought back, saying: “These are ridiculous comments about a decision taken in the interest of patients.

“We have invested in new cardiac theatres and equipment in South Wales as part of our long-term strategy for improving cardiac treatment, but it is sensible to take short-term action too. A responsible opposition would welcome this approach.”

Prime minister David Cameron on Tuesday highlighted the criticisms from the Royal College of Surgeons “that there are people on NHS waiting lists in Wales who are dying because waiting lists are too long”.

“That is a matter for the Labour Welsh Assembly Government, and they need to get their act together,” he told prime minister’s questions.