finance

‘I couldn’t wait’: Britons without health insurance on why they paid to go private


Spire Healthcare, one of Britain’s leading private hospital operators, has returned to profit after a surge in patients choosing to pay for hip and knee operations. Long waiting lists on the NHS have resulted in more people paying for healthcare themselves.

We spoke to three people without health insurance who sought consultations and treatments privately.

‘I decided I couldn’t wait that long’

Steve Deeman.
Steve Deeman has paid about £1,500 so far for his treatment.

In January this year, Steve Deeman in Nottinghamshire was looking at an eight-week delay to have the lesion on his forehead diagnosed. “It was suspicious looking and grew quite rapidly over the next few weeks,” said the 69-year-old retired teacher.

He was referred to a local hospital dermatology department in early March and was given a consultation appointment for May. “I decided I couldn’t wait that long and sought private medical care a few days later,” he said.

Deeman saw a specialist dermatologist who diagnosed the lesion as cancerous and it was removed the next day. His treatment so far has cost about £1,500 but further follow-ups have been recommended which could bring the total to £2,000. “I was fortunate in that I was able to afford treatment but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to.”

‘I don’t begrudge paying £13,000’

“I think the NHS is wonderful but I don’t understand why everything takes so long,” said one woman in Dorset in her 60s, who asked to remain anonymous.

She was first diagnosed with sciatica in 2015 but because of the pandemic and closures of sports facilities it started to get worse. She spoke to her GP in September 2019 and was referred to a hospital.

In July, she decided to pay privately for a consultation and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spaces between the vertebrae. “I tried a steroid injection, which cost about £2,000, but that didn’t work so I opted for decompression surgery in August and now my life is almost back to normal within the space of two months,” she said.

The whole treatment cost about £13,000 and she said she had to “borrow some money, cancel a few trips and move things around”. “I don’t begrudge paying it,” she said. “I had no other choice. I think the NHS was groaning before Covid and it’s quite sad to see how things are now.”

‘Waiting lists existed before the pandemic’

A 61-year-old man from London, who wanted to stay anonymous, said he was forced to use savings to pay £3,000 for hernia surgery he needed to be able to continue working in TV production.

“My GP told me that there would be a wait of several months to have this procedure carried out on the NHS, possibly up to a year.

“Faced with the prospect of not working for this length of time I decided to ‘park’ my socialist principles and investigate the private health care option. I do not have private health insurance.”

Three weeks after seeing a private consultant he was able to have the surgery a week ago.

But he also needs another surgery for a prolapsed disc, and is still waiting to get an NHS appointment. “That surgery would cost £26,000. I don’t have that sort of money.”



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