While the government has earmarked an extra £8bn a year for the NHS by 2020, there are already signs that the service is under considerable pressure. With these pressures affecting the availability of healthcare services, interest in private treatment is on the up.
Just how squeezed the NHS is can be seen in the latest waiting list figures from NHS England. These show that, with 3.12m people waiting for routine operations and procedures, waiting lists were at their highest level since January 2008.
Further, and in spite of a promise to start delivering treatment within 18 weeks of referral, almost one million people (924,000) were forced to wait longer than this in the 12 months to May 2015. And, for 6,118 people this wait extended to a year or longer, with 634 of these individuals still waiting for treatment.
The issues are also highlighted in a report published in April 2015 by The King’s Fund. In this it warned that workforce shortages could derail the plans outlined in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View. Its analysis found that staffing shortages in key areas such as mental health, primary care and community care, coupled with the NHS’s reliance on agency staff, would make it difficult to deliver new models of care.
But, in many instances, being able to access medical treatment quickly is essential. Where a condition prevents someone working or enjoying their normal activities, a long wait for an operation can seriously affect their lifestyle and potentially their income. Delaying surgery can also lead to the condition getting worse and trigger further health issues such as psychological problems - all of which would necessitate more treatment.
While it is possible to avoid the waiting lists by paying for private treatment, the bills can be chunky. For example, at Nuffield Health’s Guildford Hospital, a hip replacement costs £12,065, new knees come in at £11,310 each and carpal tunnel release is £2,295 per wrist.
Where a client’s budget can not take these one-off hits, private medical insurance (PMI) can help to spread the cost while also giving access to a broad range of healthcare treatments and services. But, with premiums linked to age, the cost can still be prohibitive.
For example, a 50-year-old taking out Bupa’s fully comprehensive Bupa By You plan would pay £996 a year or more depending on location. Even at age 35, when health issues are much less common, the annual premium for this type of policy would be more than £600.
Research by Bupa shows that these costs can be a significant deterrent. Half of the 32- to 55-year-olds it surveyed said that price was a barrier to taking out PMI. But, when asked whether they would consider it if it more affordable, 37 per cent said yes. Richard Norris, director at Bupa UK, says this is a key audience for the PMI market. “The PMI customer base is ageing. Targeting younger people with a plan that suits their needs will help to grow the market and make it more sustainable.”