A growing number of Britons are paying for private medical care due to record delays people are facing in accessing NHS care, a report has found.
They use their own savings to pay for procedures that involve some of the longest waiting times in NHS hospitals, such as diagnostic tests, cataract removals and joint replacements.
The increase in willingness to pay yourself is closely linked to a desire for private treatment that was growing even before Covid hit in March 2020. But many private hospitals have been unable to meet this demand for much of the pandemic because the coronavirus has disrupted normal health care so much.
Private hospital operators expect the self-pay boom to continue for at least the next three to five years, with half of industry leaders expecting the market to see a boom. growth of 10 to 15% by 2025.
The in-depth report, written by private sector healthcare analysts LaingBuisson, states: “Despite Brexit and economic uncertainty, the main driver of interest and use of self-pay appears to be more directly related to the times NHS waiting times than in previous years.
“What is clear is that there is a significant growth in demand for diagnostics and outpatient consultations and treatment, which appears to have continued as we approach 2022.”
The trend was illustrated recently when Spire Healthcare, the UK’s largest private hospital group, revealed in its latest annual accounts that it had seen a 115% increase in the number of people paying for their own care between 2020 and 2021. This helped it boost its revenue from £920million in 2020 to £1.106billion last year, the company said.
Retirees and older working-age adults are driving the rise in self-funded care and, in some cases, using money they haven’t spent during the pandemic, according to Liz Heath, consultant at LaingBuisson and author of the report.
“With the primary demographic for self-pay being the over 55s, the inability to spend on other lifestyle options and considered purchases such as hobbies, vacations and meals may dining out over the past two years could influence spending on health and wellness,” the report says.
The total value of the private self-pay market has grown every year since 2010 and reached around £1.117 billion – the highest on record – in 2020. Heath said 2022 is expected to show further “sustained growth”. . Some providers of private diagnostic tests such as MRIs and CT scans have reported a 50-60% year-over-year increase in people paying for themselves over the past 12 months.
While London and the South East are seeing an increase in self-pay, with their higher numbers of affluent older people, “increased interest in self-pay” has also been identified in more deprived areas, where traditionally few people opt for private, such as the north and north east of England, Heath added.
More than half of industry leaders predict the market will grow 10-15% by 2025. Payment plans offered by private companies such as Circle and Nuffield Health, which allow patients to spread the cost of their treatment, often without interest, are also encouraging more people to become deprived.
Dr Tony O’Sullivan, former NHS consultant and co-chair of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, said: ‘The government’s deliberate and sustained reduction in health services has resulted in a two-tier system. The NHS is now in a permanent state of distress, leaving patients desperate for care and – if they can afford it – feeling like they have no choice but to go private, undermining the very vision of equality and care a well-funded NHS was so famous for.
“Hard workers wouldn’t need to line shareholders’ pockets in this way if the NHS hadn’t been underfunded, understaffed and neglected for so long.”
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Provider Network, a trade body which represents more than 100 providers, said: ‘With NHS waiting lists at record levels and likely to continue to rise, it is not surprising that the growing number of patients across the country are paying privately for treatment, including those who would never have considered doing so before.