When Fabien had to have a decayed tooth removed in May, his dentist told him he would have to wait up to three years for it to be done on the NHS. Incredulous, the 27-year-old from Edinburgh called 50 dental offices, but was unsuccessful. He had no choice but to go private. Having lost his job during the pandemic, he was on universal credit and had to borrow the £ 600 from his family.
Fabien is one of the growing number of people without health insurance who pay for their medical care out of pocket. Waiting lists at NHS hospitals in England have reached record highs, reaching 5.6 million this summer, as doctors struggle to clear a growing backlog caused by Covid-19. People with modest incomes, and even those seeking benefits, turn to private providers for knee or hip replacements, cataract removal or even expensive cancer treatment.
This week, a survey of 4,000 adults commissioned by the charity Engage Britain showed more than a fifth had become private because they couldn’t get the treatment they needed. While support for the NHS remains high, a quarter said that waiting for treatment for themselves or a loved one has had a serious impact on their mental health.
Roughly 13% of the UK population has some sort of health insurance, mainly through their employers. Others face a difficult choice: wait months, if not years, for much-needed treatment, or save money to skip the line.
“The pandemic will have a lasting impact on the self-payment market,” said Vernon Baxter, managing director of HealthInvestor UK magazine. “With the NHS under pressure for the foreseeable future, the concept of paying out of pocket to speed up treatment will be increasingly common – for those who can afford it. “
LaingBuisson Health Data Cabinet valued the annual self-pay market worth at £ 1.1bn, including cosmetic surgery, and claims to have increased 7.1% between 2010 and 2019. That year, private hospital groups made just over 20% of their income from self-paying patients. With private hospitals closed to non-NHS patients during the pandemic, statistics were not collected last year, but all indications are that they will have increased significantly.
Last week, Spire Healthcare revealed a 47% increase in semi-annual self-paying patient revenue to a record £ 130million, which took overall revenue to nearly 40% from prior levels. the pandemic at £ 558million.
The UK’s second-largest private hospital group, with 39 hospitals and eight clinics, Spire says the majority of paying patients are aged 35 or over and most have a combined family income of over £ 50,000 . As CEO Justin Ash says, “He’s by no means the super affluent. David Hare, CEO of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, the industry body, says many people have accumulated savings over the past 18 months, not having been able to travel or dine out, and that “some people want to spend that money to get full mobility back” by having knee or hip surgery. “People also pay for cancer treatments,” he says.