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Self-pay numbers flatline amid doubts about greater use of private sector

The latest (September) figures from the private sector’s own official source, the Private Healthcare Information Network, confirm yet again how limited has been the growth in private hospitals’ inpatient caseload – despite the soaring NHS waiting list.

The figures – for Quarter 1 of 2023, when the NHS was in the depths of perhaps the worst winter crisis – show a total of 227,000 patients paying for hospital care through a combination of private health insurance and “self-pay” forking out the hefty fees to escape NHS delays. This is an equivalent of less than 1 million per year.

The quarterly figure is just 29,000 higher than the equivalent for 2019, before the pandemic: and while this works out at a substantial 14.6% increase, it is also a pitifully small fraction of the 3 million-plus that have been added to the NHS waiting list over the same period.

Worse from the point of view of the private hospitals is that the apparent upward trend of the most profitable ‘self-pay operations’, which apparently leapt by 44% from 50,000 in Quarter 1 of 2021 to Quarter 2, has virtually flatlined since then.

The realities of the cost of living crisis, the inflated costs of private operations, and the limited scope of many private hospitals to deal with anything much more complicated than cataracts and hip and knee operations have left self-pay stuck around 70,000 per quarter for the past two years now.

Full article in The Lowdown, 1 October 2023

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