Money Wellness
Illustrated image of a man in a hospital bed with a nurse next to him. More Brits paying for private hospital care
category iconcost of living
calendar icon23 May 2024

More Brits paying for private hospital care as NHS struggles

A growing number of people are having to reach into their own pockets to pay for hospital treatment post-COVID, according to a new report. 

Researchers at the Nuffield Trust found a 30% jump in the number of patients funding their own private healthcare since the pandemic hit.

Wales saw a 124% increase, and Scotland 80%. England, which already had the highest levels of private healthcare, experienced a 20% rise. The most dramatic rise was seen in Northern Ireland, where the number of self-payers tripled from 800 to 2,560 per quarter.

At the same time, the use of private medical insurance has also grown.

"This shift towards private care reflects just how much pressure the NHS is under right now," explains Mark Dayan, a policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust. "Waiting lists have reached record highs, and many people simply can't get the treatment they need from the health service in a timely manner."

The report suggests this trend could worsen existing health inequalities, as access to care becomes based more on ability to pay than medical need.

"It's a real worry that healthcare is slowly moving away from the founding principle of the NHS - that it's free at the point of use for everyone," adds Dayan. "We may end up with a two-tier system where those who can afford it jump the queue, while others are left waiting even longer."

The Nuffield Trust data also shows NHS trusts in England are increasingly turning to private providers to deliver care. Spending on private services has nearly doubled in just a few years.

What is self-funded treatment?

By choosing to self-pay for medical treatment, you cover the cost out of your own pocket at the point of use. Some hospitals offer finance options to help you cover the cost of your treatment.

What is private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance – sometimes known as private health insurance – pays all or some of your medical bills if you’re treated privately. It’s designed to cover the cost of private treatment for unexpected medical conditions.

What treatment are you entitled to on the NHS?

The NHS is the UK’s state health service which provides treatment for all UK residents. While the vast majority of treatments are free, a small minority may need to be paid for by the patient.

What is a UK global health insurance card?

A UK global health insurance card is issued free of charge to UK citizens. It entitles holders to state healthcare services under the UK’s reciprocal healthcare agreements with the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Guernsey and some other British Overseas Territories. This may be free or require a pay equivalent to that which a local resident would pay.

You can apply for a UK global health insurance card through the NHS website. Steer clear of unofficial websites that offer the same card as they may charge you.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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