HOSPITAL bosses are concerned that large numbers of East Lancashire patients are choosing to be treated in Preston and North Yorkshire instead.

The Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals have drawn up marketing strategies in a bid to win back patients, especially those who need non-urgent surgery.

In elective orthopaedics, which covers common procedures such as hip and knee replacements, just 60 per cent of patients within the catchment area are being treated at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT).

The trust’s ‘market share’ for general surgery, gynaecology and ear, nose and throat, have also been identified for improvement.

The tariff system used by the NHS means hospitals receive income for each patient treated, so retaining and winning market share is crucial to any service’s survival.

This is made clear in ELHT’s risk register, which said a failure to ‘achieve the reputation of a provider of choice’ could impact on clinical viability and result in a loss of services.

Martin Hodgson, service development director, told the board in a report that the trust was losing out to Airedale Hospital, among patients in the Colne area, and the Royal Preston and Chorley hospitals, in Blackburn and Darwen, with a number of others preferring to go private for general surgery, especially ortho-paedics. He added: “There’s definitely some specialities where there’s a lot we can do. We can drill it down to individual GP practices and we’ll go an see them and ask how we can get more doctors and patients to choose us.”

ELHT has been in special measures since last summer after NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh raised concerns about several aspects of patient care and low staffing levels, but Mr Hodgson said this does not appear to have impacted on market share.

He added: “If your hospital is in special measures you might think it would go down, but we haven’t lost work because of the Keogh investigation. Orthopaedics had 55 per cent in 2011 and it’s actually gone up to 59 per cent now.”

Sean Gibson, regional organiser for the Unison union, said it was sad to hear an NHS trust talking about marketing strategies.

He added: “The govern-ment’s marketisation of healthcare has the potential to leave NHS provider organisations struggling to continue to provide comprehensive services.”