More than half of GPs in the West Midlands are referring patients to private hospitals for routine operations, according to a survey.

A poll of 1,000 GPs showed 56 per cent of those working in the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority area were now more likely to channel patients to the private sector for “low priority” operations due to pressures on NHS budgets and capacity.

The operations include removal of varicose veins, cataracts operations, fertility treatment and hip and knee surgeries.

The annual NHS budget has been ring-fenced by the Government, but BMI chief executive Adrian Fawcett believes that will not be enough to match annual NHS inflation and the result will be a longer wait for treatment.

He said: “As a society we are living longer and are less fit and this is only going to place greater strain on NHS resources in the future.

“The combination of this increasing demand and an over-stretched NHS budget means further treatment de-prioritisation is inevitable and waiting lists look set to rise significantly, resulting in more people opting to seek care from private providers.

“As GPs take responsibility for commissioning, they will be very aware that they have to make the most of their budgets for the benefit of all patients.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that we will see GPs increasingly referring patients to the private sector if patients want access to timelier treatment.

“It is inevitable that, due to the pressures facing the health care market, some people will decide that for treatments which impact their quality of life, they are increasingly prepared to pay for it themselves.”

The NHS is facing a transformational period which will see the responsibility of commissioning and healthcare budgets handed to GPs.