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Analysis reveals ‘shift’ towards private healthcare

16 May 2024 4 minute read
Bariatric surgery

There has been a “sharp increase” in people forking out for private health care according to new analysis -with private hospital admissions up 124% in Wales.

The Nuffield Trust said across the UK, there has been a rise in the number of people paying out of their own pocket for hospital care since the pandemic.

The think tank suggested people could be turning to private care “out of desperation as NHS provision flatlines”.

Nuffield Trust analysis suggests the biggest rises in people turning to private healthcare have occurred in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

According to the analysis:

– The vast majority of planned hospital admissions in England – around 85% – are NHS patients in NHS hospitals, but this has fallen from 88% before the pandemic.

– Between September 2019 and September 2023, hospital admissions paid for out of pocket were up 218% in Northern Ireland, 124% in Wales, 80% in Scotland and 20% in England.

– Across the whole of the UK, this means a 32% increase in out-of-pocket admission and day cases between September 2019 to September 2023.

– There has also been a rise in people using private health insurance to get private healthcare – across the UK as a whole, hospital admissions through private health insurance are up 5%, with the Nuffield Trust saying the rise could be because people and employers “expect difficulty in accessing care to continue”.

“Health inequalities”

The authors said the trends “may be being forced on the UK by a lack of NHS provision, and pressure from emergency demand, and serving as an alternative to the NHS being able to do more, rather than simply reflecting additional or better treatment being made available”.

They also warned the trend could risk exacerbating health inequalities.

Mark Dayan, one of the authors of the data briefing, said: “While the vast majority of care remains NHS funded and delivered, there has been a definitive shift in all four UK countries towards private healthcare, either funded out of pocket or to a lesser extent through private healthcare plans.

“Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have seen the starkest rises in those turning to private healthcare provision.

“In Northern Ireland this more than tripled and could reflect patients grappling with the longest waiting times in any UK countries. At the same time, the English health service is once again starting to make more use of private providers itself, insofar as its budget can stretch.

“As more people shuttle from private care to NHS care and back, there is a risk that they will jump the queue, or fall through the cracks of disjointed information systems.

“The fact that more people are paying out of pocket at a time when the economy is tight and difficult, not a time of plenty, suggests they are turning to the private sector out of desperation as NHS provision flatlines.

“That means that the balance of care is very slowly shifting from care based on need, to care based on willingness and ability to pay.”

Record waiting lists

David Furness, from the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said: “With NHS waiting lists at record levels, it’s not surprising that more people are choosing to use private healthcare, either paying by their own means, or through insurance.

“Independent providers are also continuing to play their role in the delivery of universal, high quality NHS care, free at the point of use to patients all across the country, with independent providers delivering around one in five NHS admitted operations, and 10% of all elective activity, it’s clear that the sector is key to ensuring NHS patients can get the timely, high quality care they need.”

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Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
6 days ago

There is no absolute queue- queueing is a function of NHS incompetence and inadequacy. Most of the people paying are doing so to restore health or function so as to continue working or avoiding unnecessary death or irreversible deterioration. They are in fact paying twice by forgoing their NHS entitlement and in addition making the list shorter for others. Also reducing the need for benefits or care especially if sight of mobility are restored.

6 days ago

NHS nationally is a disgrace. But then think of the poor Tory Donors that need to scrape a living buying up our services, the ones we have paid for.

Hows the Palantir data deal going?

6 days ago

Disgusting. Part of the plan to privatise the NHS. Run it into the ground till people give up and go private then point and say “look, people want private healthcare”. Then the Tories and their pals laugh their way to the bank. Don’t think Labour will be any better. Streeting already very ameanable to letting the private sector in. Wealthy snouts in the trough being filled up with the taxpayers money. The UK is a vehicle for ripping people off. The last vestiges of the post-war settlement are being ripped away. Welcome to your brave new world. We are all… Read more »

6 days ago

Since most people pay national insurance the ones who choose to have private surgery are in fact paying twice. Once through NI and then privately. Perhaps the bill for going private should be sent to the government for a refund. People pay their NI dues religiously but the government/NHS cannot fulfil their part and deliver the goods and could be said to be breaking the “contract”. We wouldn’t walk into Tesco, pay for goods and then walk out empty handed!!

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