Millions of pounds worth of surgery performed by private hospitals is to be targeted by Northampton General Hospital bosses.
Managers have tracked the loss of operations in small areas of the county and concluded, for example, that the market for trauma and orthopaedics operations in Daventry alone is worth more than £5.9 million.
However, only £1.8 million of the work is carried out at NGH.
Bosses, who have run up a multi-million pound deficit this year, say they want to incorporate surgical theatres into their masterplan that would handle only planned operations.
They hope it will both make the hospital an attractive state-of-the-art choice for operations, but also help cut waiting lists.
Dr Sonia Swart, NGH’s chief executive, said: “Why do people choose private? It’s because it offers routine operations in a nicer building and better food.
“The question we are asking ourselves is could we streamline our non-urgent work and separate out emergency and non-emergency patients. People would be confident their operation will go ahead with the surgeon they wanted.
“If we focus on providing better care then, by definition, other things will follow.”
Competing more strongly with the private sector may become a key part of NGH’s hopes of extending its building.
The NHS would only fund the masterplan if the hospital is stable financially, so targeting private cash currently flowing out of the health service would help show it could survive as a larger site.
However, reversing the increasing trend of people migrating to private surgeons will be a challenge.
In orthopaedics, for example, private hospitals will do the 70 per cent of least-complex operations, which are cheaper to carry out and so make most money.
NGH is required to do the other 30 per cent of expensive surgery, but also foot the bill for training costs.
However, with the powerful sentiments evoked by the concept of the NHS, coupled with a better service, NGH hopes to encourage patients to choose it.
Dr Swart said: “When I talk to patients there’s a real sense they feel the NHS needs their support.”