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Archived article

Going private

15 February 2018

More patients are losing confidence in the NHS and are increasingly looking to pay for surgery, cancer drugs, and other treatments themselves.

‘Beloved but beleaguered’ might be the best way to describe the modern-day NHS. When it was launched in 1948 by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, it was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. Seventy years on, that principle remains at its core.

Yet the system is clearly under severe strain, with many hospitals facing staff shortages and overcrowding. The recent decision by NHS England to suspend routine operations to offset a winter crisis is symptomatic of the pressure on both beds and budgets.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that interest in private healthcare is rising. Providers and commentators report annual growth of 15% to 25% in the number of patients who are funding private operations themselves – so-called ‘self-payers’.1

“There’s no doubt that NHS waiting lists are at the heart of this growth in self-pay,” says the report’s author, Keith Pollard. “However, the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into the private healthcare sector is stimulating a new era of price transparency, increased price competition and greater availability of data for patients to compare what’s on offer from the private healthcare providers. This can only be good news for patients.”

Yet, it’s not just waiting times that are driving people towards private treatment. Widely publicised restrictions on NHS funding for cancer drugs is also fueling the growth in self-pay oncology.

Its costs £12,000 on average for a round of cancer drugs, with
some breakthrough treatments costing as much as £150,0002

While demand for private healthcare has risen sharply, demand for private medical insurance (PMI) has been relatively flat over the past decade or so. Affordability has been identified as the primary reason for a lack of growth in demand, with the rise in insurance premium tax making some policies more expensive.

Consequently, more people are having to resort to using savings, loan finance or other means to fund private operations. Yet it's quite likely that PMI would have saved many of those individuals money.

PMI is designed to ensure that if you need medical treatment, you won’t need to worry about the cost; neither will you have to worry about NHS waiting times, staff shortages or overcrowding. You can get fast access to consultant specialist advice as well as early admission to hospital if you require treatment – helping you to get better more quickly.

It’s important to recognise that private medical insurance policies do not cover problems related to drug or alcohol abuse, cosmetic surgery or fertility treatment. Likewise, if you have displayed any symptoms of a disease before you start your policy, the cost of your treatment will not be covered.

Even so, the choice and flexibility of medical cover offered by insurers has never been greater, with many policyholders able to choose different levels of cover to match their budget. For instance, several insurers will lower your premium if you choose a 'six-week option'. This means you'll be eligible for private healthcare via your health insurance policy but only if the waiting time with the NHS is more than six weeks. Likewise, certain insurers will be cheaper for larger families.

However, cheapest doesn't necessarily mean best and what’s right for one person won’t necessarily be right for another. That’s why if you’re considering PMI, it's worth speaking to a financial adviser who specialises in this area. They will take your personal situation into account before recommending the right policy for you; and, subject to your wishes, ensure that your family's financial health remains intact – whatever happens.

We all want to know that the NHS will be there for us and our families when we need it most. None of that is possible without the outstanding staff of the NHS. But some urgent care services are struggling to cope with rising demand. PMI will provide the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you will always get the care you need, when you need it, in a comfortable and personalised setting. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.


1 Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study, September 2017

2, accessed 13 Feb 2018.


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