The Future Of Private Healthcare In The UK

By Vicki Coleman

Healthcare is front and centre in the news right now. The general consensus is that the NHS is at breaking point, prompting many people to consider going private for the first time in their lives.

The number of patients paying for private treatment in the UK has risen by 39% over the past two years[1], while some people have even resorted to travelling abroad for care[2].

In September 2022, a survey by the charity Engage Britain found that one in 10 adults in the UK had turned to private healthcare in the past 12 months[3].

In their desperation for treatment, an increasing number of patients are paying for private treatment directly out of their own pocket. Spire Healthcare, which runs 39 private hospitals across Britain, reported an 81% increase in self-pay spending – people who pay directly for treatment, rather than using private insurance – compared with pre-pandemic times[4].

But what does it all mean for the future of private healthcare and private medical insurance?

Private boom likely to continue

As more and more NHS-related horror stories make the media, it’s likely that the number of people turning to private healthcare is going to increase further.

Experts have warned that without intervention, waiting lists will continue to grow, patients will continue to suffer, and staff will continue to leave.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised he will take urgent action to ease the pressure on the health service. But he will have to do so against the backdrop of nurse strikes and a wave of winter illnesses.

While we might see an ease on demand by the spring, the waiting list could realistically be even longer by then. At the time of writing, some 7.2 million people now find themselves on NHS waiting lists: that’s a staggering 12% of the population[5].

The most pressing backlogs are in cancer care and elective surgery – mainly knee and hip replacements and cataract operations. Some have been waiting for five years. And some of those people might be at the point where they’re wanting to get back to living life to the full again and be prepared to pay to go private.

More private GPs to pop up

People are not only going private for surgeries but also to see a GP. It’s never been more difficult to get a GP appointment at an NHS practice – if you’re lucky enough to get through on the phone, you’ll have to hope that the time they give is a convenient one.

The benefit of seeing a private GP is that you can guarantee an appointment very quickly at a time that suits you. This can be very useful for getting hold of advice for acute medical problems that don’t require a visit to A&E.

Ultimately, it’s saving the NHS some work and freeing up the service for patients who can’t afford to go private. On the NHS, patients usually have to wait a couple of weeks for a routine appointment. By the time they are seen, their condition might have worsened and they could require a hospital visit.

So, are more private surgeries potentially a good thing for national healthcare?

Well, A private GP may be unwilling to prescribe certain drugs – such as strong painkillers – without first viewing your medical history. NHS and private health care services aren’t particularly well connected, meaning patients have to put in a “subject access request” to their GP to receive a copy of their medical history.

Also, you can end up paying two or three times the cost for a private prescription. The costs can therefore add up if you require expensive long-term medication.

Finally, if more GPs are choosing to work for private practices, where does that leave NHS GP surgeries? There is already a shortage around 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs, which is projected to rise to around 8,900 FTE GPs in 2030/31, relative to the number needed to meet the rising need for care[6].

People to be encouraged to make healthier choices

Nobody wants to get ill or have to require some kind of surgery – but we don’t always make the right choices for our long-term health.

Research shows that four types of behaviour - poor diet, physical activity, tobacco use, and excess alcohol intake - cause preventable diseases which lead to 60% of deaths worldwide[7].

What we could see moving forward is people provided with incentives to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle. Some private medical insurers are already doing this – through rewards and benefits, they’re enabling members to achieve better health, enjoy tangible financial value and receive an enhanced insurance offering.

It makes sense for both ends of the deal. And it could turn more people onto private medical insurance, knowing that in addition to cover they could enjoy some rewards and benefits for the cost of their annual premiums.

Is it time you went private?

You won’t be alone in asking yourself this question right now. It’s completely your call, but there’s no harm in generating some quotes to see for yourself how much your premiums would be and what type of cover you could get.

Different people have different risk mindsets and health needs, and our experts are trained to match policies to individual requirements.

At QuoteSearch, we’re happy to get as many quotes that you need so that you can make your mind up. We don’t have any favourite suppliers – the quotes that you see are comprehensive and competitive.

So, don’t be shy in requesting quotes for different types of cover – that’s what our experts are paid to do!

To compare your free PMI quotes from leading providers, click here.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/81058c84-9b79-4e4d-927a-a85417b665de

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/12/families-sending-relatives-with-dementia-to-thailand-for-care

[3] https://engagebritain.org/news-millions-turning-to-private-healthcare-forced-into-financial-worry/

[4] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/2023-year-opt-private-healthcare/#:\~:text=And earlier this year%2C Spire,private for our family doctors.

[5] https://news.sky.com/story/nhs-waiting-list-hits-record-high-of-7-2-million-people-as-almost-third-of-patients-wait-four-hours-in-a-e-12763943

[6] https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/news/a-quarter-of-gp-and-general-practice-nursing-posts-could-be-vacant-in-10-years#:\~:text=There is currently a shortage,the rising need for care.

[7] https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.l6669