Long NHS waiting lists are pushing patients to ‘forgo’ NHS treatment and pay for healthcare out of their own pockets, experts have said.
New figures show that patients paid for 69,045 private treatments themselves between October and December 2021, up 39% from the equivalent period in the pre-pandemic year 2019.
Data from the Private Healthcare Information Network (Phin), released Friday, also shows there were 258,445 self-paid admissions to private providers in 2021, up 29% from 199,675 in 2019.
Health experts have said the record NHS backlog could fuel demand for private care and warned it could “exacerbate inequalities” between those who can afford to pay and those who cannot.
The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment hit a new record high of 6.6million at the end of May.
Phin said that some common procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery are the major drivers for the growth of the self-pay market.
Hip replacements increased by 141% from 2,085 between October and December 2019 to 5,015 during the same period last year, knee replacements increased by 111% from 1,240 to 2 620, and cataract surgery increased by 56%, from 8,145 to 12,700.
Jonathon Holmes, policy adviser at think tank The King’s Fund, told the PA news agency that if the NHS provided access to the services people wanted, they wouldn’t be paying for their own care.
He added: “I think, overall, support for the model of a universal, tax-funded healthcare system is still what the public largely supports and wants.
‘So if the NHS provided the access and immediacy of services that people want and need, I’m quite sure people would choose the free NHS at the point of use rather than spending their own resources.
“People are opting out of the NHS, not choosing the private sector.”
Louise Ansari, national director of Healthwatch England, said that due to the cost of living crisis, the gap between those who can pay for private care and those who cannot is likely to widen.
She added: ‘We know that some people who would have previously taken an NHS route have already had private treatment during the pandemic, and almost one in seven people on waiting lists say they can afford to. go private and consider it.
“Yet for more than two-thirds of people, going private is simply not an option, and with the growing cost of living crisis, the gap between these groups will only grow.
“Our evidence also shows that people on the lowest incomes are most likely to wait the longest for NHS treatment and will have a more negative waiting experience.
“In turn, this has a more serious impact on their physical health, their mental health and their ability to work and care for loved ones.
“Tackling the backlog in the NHS is a huge challenge, but policymakers must find a way to do so without exacerbating health inequalities, the scale of which has been laid bare by the pandemic.”
The Phin data also shows that there are large regional differences in the growth in the number of people paying for independent health care themselves.
Wales saw the strongest growth, with 3,575 self-paid entries between October and December last year, up 90% from 1,885 in the same three months of 2019.
Next come Scotland at 84% and the East Midlands at 75%.
Meanwhile, self-paid admissions increased by 20% in London, from 11,580 between October and December 2019 to 13,875 in those three months in 2021, followed by a 25% increase in the South West of England and 32% in the South East of England.
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said with growing NHS waiting lists, it’s no surprise that more people are choosing to go private.
“With NHS waiting lists at record highs and likely to continue to rise, it’s no surprise that more people are paying for private treatment, including those who had never considered it before,” said he declared.
“A recent IHPN poll found that almost half of the public would consider private healthcare and, with nearly 700 independent healthcare sites across England offering a wide range of services from consultations, tests and from scans to surgery, there is significant capacity available for those wishing to fund their own care.
An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS staff have been working hard to carry out as many elective procedures as possible, and in the past six months since the launch of our Covid recovery plan, the number of people waiting more than two years fell by more than 80%.
“There is no doubt that the NHS still faces pressures – including an increase in the number of Covid patients in hospitals and the demand for urgent care – but we are committed to carrying out as many elective treatments as possible. for patients, and one of the benefits of the NHS is that hospitals can work together, and so if people can and want to be treated faster elsewhere in the country, NHS staff are making sure that can happen .