More People Choosing Private Healthcare As NHS Waiting Lists Hit Record Highs

An increasing number of Brits are turning to private healthcare for their medical needs as NHS waiting times continue to increase. But for some without private medical insurance, the cost of going private means getting into debt.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS waiting lists in the most deprived areas of England have increased by 50%, compared with 35% in the most affluent areas. This reality means Brits face a postcode lottery when it comes to receiving timely treatment, with society’s most deprived disproportionately impacted.

In fact, those in deprived areas were nearly twice as likely as those in the wealthiest to wait more than a year for treatment, including knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and other common procedures, according to an analysis by the King’s Fund.

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[Related reading: PMI Provides Safety Net, Peace Of Mind Amid Growing NHS Waiting Times]

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In England alone, a record 5.6 million people were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of July. 

Figures from the latest monthly NHS RTT waiting times data show that as of September this year, the list of people waiting for routine operations in England is growing by an estimated 150,000 people every month.

NHS targets state that patients referred for non-urgent consultant-led elective care should begin treatment within 18 weeks. At the end of July, just 68% of such patients nationally had been seen within the 18-week target. This figure is up from the record low of 47% in July 2020, but down from 80% in March 2020.

Getting Into Debt For Treatment

With procedures such as knee replacements and total hip replacements costing around £11,000 each privately, the decision to bypass NHS waiting lists isn’t a cheap one. For individuals without private medical insurance, funding such treatment often means getting into debt.

Speaking to the BBC, Sofia Jones, 36, who has endometriosis - a gynaecological condition that leads to severe pelvic pain - said she and her partner decided to take out a £7,000 loan to pay for the treatment she needed privately. Sofia - who can barely walk some days - was told she'd have to wait two years for an operation on the NHS. 

"It was a really tough decision to go private," she said, "because we were having to put ourselves into debt. And that's a lot of money. But you have to have some quality of life."

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[Related reading: Why Private Healthcare Could Be The New Norm For Businesses Post-Pandemic]

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According to Anita Charlesworth, chief economist at the Health Foundation think tank: "The big worry about long waits leading people to have to go private is that it will increase inequalities, but also that many people will be forced to make awful trade-offs over their finances in order to be able to get access to the care that they need when they need it.”

The bottom line is private healthcare can provide an alternative to the NHS and afford extra peace of mind for individuals who can no longer wait for treatment.

While the NHS has been a source of pride for generations of Brits, the COVID-19 pandemic has really taken its toll on our beloved health service. With waiting lists for routine procedures now at all-time highs, more and more people are turning to private healthcare to provide them with the services they need.

However, treatments in private hospitals don’t come cheap. That’s why private medical insurance can be so crucial when it comes to alleviating the financial burden.

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Author: Gill Adams - Head of SME Growth