Current NHS waiting lists are pushing more people to pay for private care as the nation’s health service struggles following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Following record delays in accessing treatment and care, an alarming number of the public are opting to pay for private medical treatment. Current waiting times, which have been disastrously impacted by the priority of the pandemic response, now stand at critical levels as more than six million people are waiting to be seen and treated by healthcare professionals. This has raised serious issues for treatment areas such as oncology, where the Government’s ambition to radically improve early cancer diagnosis and treatment is failing.
The movement of patients from the NHS waiting list to private care has provided growth for private hospital operators over the last two years, a trend which shows no signs of stopping. A recent report revealed forecasts of private hospital operators, who expect the boom from patients preferring to pay than wait to continue for at least the next three to five years. Half of industry experts are expecting the market to grow by 10-15% by 2025.
Spire Healthcare, the UK’s biggest private hospital group, disclosed in its most recent annual account that is had recorded a 115% jump in the number of people paying for their own care between 2020 and 2021. This helped it to increase its revenues from £920 million in 2020 to £1.11 billion last year, the firm said.
The main demographic being pushed into private treatment are primarily over 55-year-olds with more disposable income to pay for treatment and care. The dominant procedures and treatments which people are choosing to go privately are for diagnostic tests, cataract removals and joint replacements.
Dr Tony O’Sullivan, a former NHS consultant and co-chair of the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, said: “The government’s deliberate and sustained running down of the health service 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 as if they have no choice but to go private, undermining the very vision of equality and care a well-funded NHS was so famous for”.
The Government faces perhaps their biggest political challenge with the NHS backlog which has been pushed to extreme levels following the pandemic. Waiting times for treatment and care is always a challenge for any government with a stretched healthcare budget, yet the numbers of tax payers being forced to pay for private care will be alarming for the Conservatives.
Whilst the NHS was monumental in the fight against coronavirus, the pandemic highlighted the deep, structural issues of staff recruitment and retention that currently plague the health service. The Government therefore has to look beyond just financials and look to foster a better environment throughout the NHS and the wider life sciences sector. There is no easy fix to clearing the backlog, but the justification of spending tax payer’s money on health services they can’t reasonably access is unsustainable in the long-term.
Photo credit: Liz West