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Private sector still struggling to produce promised “boom”

A continuing barrage of misinformation on the supposed boom in private medical treatment as a result of the soaring NHS waiting lists has continued into the summer ‘silly season’ for news, dragging in normally reliable commentators and news media.

A key problem in accurate reporting of trends in the use of private medicine is the long delay in publishing official statistics by the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), whose most recent figures published in May only run up to the end of last year (2022). The figures are published quarterly, and are so small that even a modest increase in numbers of patients can result in a larger percentage change.

One figure that has generated a large number of misleading news reports was the increase in numbers of self-pay patients treated in private hospitals in 2022 compared with the last full pre-pandemic year, 2019. After the near-total collapse of private sector activity in Quarter 2 of 2020 and slow recovery in 2021 the quarterly total of self-pay patients rose from a steady 50,000 in 2019 to a peak of 72,000 in Quarter 2 of 2022, an increase of 42% – but only 22,000 extra patients, despite the massive increase in the NHS waiting list and long delays for many patients.

Subsequent quarters have fallen back from that peak, but the total of 272,000 self-pay patients in 2022 was 36% (73,000) higher than 2019.

Full article in The Lowdown, 30 August 2023

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