A system of allowing NHS patients to receive private operations was first introduced as a way of cutting waiting lists across the health service.However, spiralling costs have meant the system has had to be stopped.Last year £66m was spent on elective care in the independent sector.In a statement the Health and Social Care Board confirmed it had asked all trusts to " temporarily pause" sending patients to the "independent sector for elective care assessment or treatment" until the June Monitoring Round was confirmed.Department of Health officials had been hoping for an extra £160m in the monitoring round, but ended up with £20m.The board said its position has not changed since the Executive agreed the budgeting adjustments last week and could not say how long it expects the suspension to be in place.Dr Tom Black, chair of the NI General Practitioners' Committee, said he believed private referrals were never the answer.He told UTV: "Spending so much money on the private sector when the national health hospitals need that funding is probably the wrong decision."We now need to pause, recalibrate and get our strategy right."He added: "We have created a situation where the waiting list is king when it should actually be about priority and clinical need - who needs the care and when."Trade Union representative Patricia McKeown from Unison added: "The health service is financially broke."It is £260m short of the money it needs to do the business and there is another £400m cost pressure on it. So this has come as no surprise."