A report has revealed how a growing number of patients are paying for private treatment to beat rationing and delays for treatment imposed by the cash-strapped NHS.
The report details how many are increasingly paying up to £14,880 for operations such as a hip or knee replacement or cataract removal.
“There’s no doubt that NHS waiting lists are at the heart of this growth in self-pay,” said Keith Pollard, the chief executive of Intuition Communications, which undertook the research.
Hospital firms that are profit-driven are experiencing rises of 15%-25% yearly in the number of uninsured “self-payers”, with the increase mainly driven by long waiting times to undergo non-urgent surgery in NHS hospitals.
To pay for treatment, patients are often using their savings or taking out loans.
The biggest increases have been in those paying for procedures to relieve disabling condition, interventions that are, without a long wait, increasingly difficult for people in England to obtain on the National Health Service.
“Providers have noted a direct correlation at a local level between reported excessive waiting times for surgery and demand for self-pay surgery,” read the report.
In July, for the first time in a decade, the total number of patients in England waiting for planned hospital care within the maximum 18 weeks guaranteed under the Referral to Treatment scheme exceeded 4 million.
“[There are] mixed messages from government,” said Dr Mark Holland, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine.
“They reassure the public on one hand, but at the same time there is a clear move for services to be privatised. The public have a right to know what the government’s long-term strategy on healthcare really is. I fear we could make proper healthcare beyond the reach of those who are already disadvantaged.
“Selling off chunks of the NHS makes no sense. Assuming they want to make a profit, how can they maintain quality when services are already underfunded? My conclusion is that services and quality will be sacrificed for profit.”
He continued, “[NHS creator, Aneurin] Bevan’s vision for the NHS should be revisited and updated as it approaches its 70th birthday.”
“What we must not allow is for the NHS to have its soul destroyed. If we are not careful the NHS will simply be a brand, lacking any substance and simply a limp apology by the government for a false promise. In every sense, this move will be tragic.”
Shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said, “This increase in patients paying for private treatment is because of the underfunding and neglect of the NHS under the Tories. It’s a sad indictment of how bad things really are.”