The NHS is widely regarded as one of the best free healthcare systems in the world. Despite this, more and more patients are turning to private healthcare. But what’s driving them to do this?
There are lots of factors that can drive people to pay for healthcare. Here are just some of the reasons why more patients are going private.
Easier appointment booking
One simple reason that many patients are turning private is because they can’t get an appointment with their local GP. A shortage of doctors in the NHS has led to many local surgeries having to close and merge. This has led to many local surgeries having less slots – patients must often ring at 8am to get an appointment for the day, and even then there’s no guarantee of getting through or getting a suitable slot.
By going private, patients don’t have to deal with this struggle. Many private clinics allow patients to book appointments at any time during the day. You may even be able to do it directly through your doctor. This can be better suited for those with busy lives who can’t afford to be waiting on the phone for half an hour.
Shorter waiting times
When it comes to booking hospital appointments and operations meanwhile, the NHS has long battled with long waiting times. An 18 week plan has been put into place to ensure every patient gets surgery booked within 18 weeks, however in recent years this hasn’t been working. In fact in some months last year, only 87% of patients had a treatment waiting time of less than 18 weeks. Whilst the NHS prioritises those in critical condition, many lesser health problems can still end up deteriorating due to this waiting time and it could mean taking unnecessary time off work.
Compare this to private care and the story is very different – most patients are given treatment within a week. As a result, many people with worsening conditions that need surgery are going private to take advantage of this. Going private in order to take advantage of shorter waiting times is particularly popular amongst athletes recovering from sports injuries who may have sporting events coming up. Similarly, many people that have holidays booked will fast-track their surgery by going private so that they don’t have to cancel their travel plans.
A calmer environment
A lot of patients are also turning private in order to be treated in a more relaxing environment. The demand on NHS hospitals means that many patients are being seen to hurriedly. Patients must often share wards with others. Sometimes there may not even be a bed – mental health patients are often the ones that lose beds first and there have been cases of women giving birth in waiting rooms because there was no bed available.
Such horror stories have driven many patients to seek private healthcare (even if many of the quality of public healthcare is generally high). Compared to NHS hospitals, private clinics often offer patients their own room with a TV and food waiting service. Such clinics can be more like hotels than hospitals and this luxury draws people to them who may have had a bad experience with public healthcare.
Greater access to private health insurance
Health insurance rates are increasing, which may suggest that fewer can afford to go private. However, access to private health insurance is growing as many companies are taking out plans for their employees as a perk. As a result many patients aren’t actually having to pay for the bulk of private healthcare thanks to employers’ generosity.
Private healthcare has been ranked many times amongst the best company perks along with other health benefits such as free gym memberships. Such perks make financial sense to employers too – looking after the health of your employees results in less sick days and more productivity. Some companies are also able to get discounts with bulk schemes.
Greater range of treatment options
There are some treatment options that you can’t get on the NHS. Cosmetic treatments are a good example of this and must be sought out privately. The NHS has even axed certain procedures such as varicose vein surgery and tonsil removal in order to prioritise more necessary treatments.
Going private allows people to seek out these treatment options that aren’t provided by the NHS. In fact, cosmetic treatment makes up the majority of private procedures (even if many private insurers don’t cover cosmetic treatment).
The rise of medical tourism
Perhaps one of the more obscure reasons as to why more people are going private is a rise in medical tourism. Often driven by other factors too such as shorter waiting times and greater quality of care, patients are considering medical options abroad. This can allow patients to receive the perks of private healthcare whilst also getting to experience a trip to another country.
Such an option may only be suitable for those whose condition doesn’t limit them from flying. In some cases, it could allow patients to recuperate whilst enjoying a holiday in an exotic country.
What does this mean for the future of healthcare?
More people going private may not be such a bad thing for the NHS. The system is already under such strain that it struggles to keep up with the amount of patients it already has. If more people start going private it could allow the NHS to give more time to those that need it and who can’t afford to go private.
Meanwhile, private clinics will continue to benefit from this growth. New private clinics are constantly being established, allowing private clinics to keep up with the demand.