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More people are turning to private healthcare – so should we be worried about the future of the NHS?


Is this a major problem? (Picture: Getty)

We’ve owed so much of the past 18 months to the NHS. But now strains are more apparent than ever before.

New research from charity Engage Britain has revealed one in five people have been forced to access private healthcare.

After speaking to a representative group of over 4,000 people, the charity found that 21% went private because NHS treatment was not available.

Dylan Hayward is one of those people. The 26-year-old used private healthcare for the first time in June this year.

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I’ve used the NHS all my life and my experiences are only good, however backlogs and delays are a real concern.’

He had already waited over a year after his optician referred him to a local hospital for an eye squint, and his condition was getting worse.



What is an eye squint?

According to the NHS: ‘A squint, also called strabismus, is where the eyes point in different directions. It’s particularly common in young children, but can occur at any age.

‘One of the eyes may turn in, out, up or down while the other eye looks ahead.

‘This may happen all the time or it may come and go.

‘Treatment is usually recommended to correct a squint, as it’s unlikely to get better on its own and it could cause further problems if not treated early on.’

After a private consultation, he was told he needed surgery and that the NHS wait was likely at least two years long.

He had his operation that summer, and has since taken out private healthcare insurance because he was impressed that he could contact his consultant at any time, and by the quality of facilities.

Dylan’s switch to private healthcare suggests a change in attitudes may be underway, because he had been so happy with NHS service beforehand.

If more people start to see healthcare as something they have to pay for, though they already pay taxes, does this put the NHS in peril?

HCA Healthcare says it is the largest provider of privately funded healthcare in the UK.

They have seen an increase in people paying for treatment out of pocket (self-pay). These are people who don’t have health insurance so may be using personal savings, or other means to fund their treatment.

This is important, because it suggests that they may not have planned to use private healthcare initially.

HCA says they have seen a 20% increase in this for complex medical problems, which tend to be more expensive as follow up treatments are needed.

Long waiting lists push some to go private (Picture: Getty Images)

Orthopaedic (relating to deformities of bones or muscles) inpatient procedures are up by 25%. Cardiothoracic (relating to the heart and chest or lungs) inpatient procedures are up by 20%. Neuroscience self-pay (which refers to illnesses such as strokes, rather than ADHD) has increased by 30%.

The group also say they’ve seen an increase of between 25-35% in people coming from the South and Southwest of England to their London hospitals.

One such person is Amelia*. She is based in Buckinghamshire and works for the NHS in a non-medical role.

She turned to private healthcare for the first time in April 2021 because she was struggling to work from home, and was concerned it could be ADHD but was put off by long waiting lists.

‘My GP visits never felt particularly productive,’ she adds.

‘I always felt quite dismissed or shrugged off.’

Unlike Dylan, who describes brilliant private healthcare treatment, Amelia* also feels disillusioned with the private healthcare she received.

Her ADHD assessment set her back £400, and the prescription cost is £200 a month. She avoids asking follow-up questions about her newfound condition due to the cost – something she would not worry about if she was being treated by the NHS.

Professor Azeem Majeed, Head of the Department of Primary Care & Public Health at Imperial College London says that given ‘record’ NHS waiting lists, it is likely that more and people will turn to private healthcare.

Still, he thinks the NHS remains safe.

‘No government is likely to change to a US style healthcare model wth insurance or other fees payable,’ he tells us.

‘There would be major political consequences.’

Professor Premila Webster, Academic Associate at the University of Nicosia Medical School agrees.

‘I cannot see that happening,’ she says, simply. ‘It would be a dark day.’

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity

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