Private healthcare use almost doubles as NHS waiting lists soar

Private health cover has nearly doubled since the pandemic began as patients look for a “safety net” alternative to an ailing NHS, research shows. And many are plundering savings or even going into debt to pay for it. By the end of last year, 22 percent of people had separate health cover – a 10 percent rise on 2019.

It coincides with a rise in health service waiting lists from 4.39 million in March 2020 – when the first lockdown was imposed – to 7.2 million today.

The analysis also shows a sharp rise in the number of “self-pay” hospital admissions – patients who pay for private medical hospital treatment without insurance.

This rose by 29 percent – from 200,000 in 2019 to 258,000 in 2021.

The study, carried out for the Sunday Express by the financial consultancy group Broadstone, is based on a range of reports including survey data and government figures.

It follows last week’s revelations public satisfaction with the NHS has slumped to its lowest-ever level.

Figures from the British Social Attitudes Survey and analysed by the Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund think tanks found overall satisfaction with the NHS stands at 29 percent.

That is a fall of seven percent from 2021 and the fourth largest year-on-year drop recorded.

Almost half of those who have turned to private healthcare in the past 12 months had to reduce their spending in other areas, dipping into savings or going into debt to pay for it.

Francis Elliott, director of advocacy at the charity Engage Britain, said: “Plunging levels of satisfaction with the NHS and more people going private are two trends that ought to worry those who want to maintain our health service.

“Our work showed that people are still deeply attached to and proud of principles on which the NHS is founded – particularly that it is free at the point of need.

“We heard again and again, however, that the everyday experience of using the health service is a different matter. Long waiting lists are causing misery to millions and forcing many to use savings or go into debt to pay for private treatment.

“People are well aware of the root causes of the crisis in workforce shortages and lack of capacity in care system. They will support solutions to both – but the politicians need to address the public’s frustrations.”

Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s acute network said: “If the NHS was properly resourced then fewer people would feel the need to take out this type of insurance.

“The focus has to be in making sure the NHS is equipped to support the whole population’s needs.

“With 124,000 vacancies and a £10billion shortfall in capital investment, we are a way off from there.”

But a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The longest waits are falling and more patients are getting access to treatment.

“The NHS has already virtually eliminated waits of more than two years for treatment, while 18-month waits have been cut by over 80 percent since the peak in September 2021.”

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