As NHS patients face record waits, what private treatment are they seeking?
January 5th, 2023, Janice Fernandes

As NHS patients face record waits, what private treatment are they seeking?

Putting aside political considerations, the COVID pandemic followed by a heavy flu season and other winter factors have put the NHS under significant pressure. Some patients are now facing record waits and this, in turn, is said to be encouraging Britons to seek private healthcare, which critics say is driving the country towards a two-tiered healthcare system.

But what proportion of the public have access to private care? Around a quarter of Britons say they’ve accessed services and treatments through private healthcare in the last 12 months.

Latest data from YouGov Profiles reveals that among British consumers who have access to private healthcare, nearly half of them have it through their employer (49%). Breaking the data down by age, we see a pattern of ‘employable’ consumers relying on work benefits for private healthcare – 57% of 25-34-year-olds, 63% of 35-44-year-olds and 64% of 45-54-year-olds do so.

Among the older British population who have access to private healthcare 41% have their own individual health policy. The youngest adult population is slightly more likely to take out an individual health policy (18% of 18-24-year-olds) than some of the older age groups – 16% of 25-34-year-olds and 15% of 35-44-year-olds.

The waiting time for treatments through the NHS is currently at record levels, so for which treatments do Britons leverage their private policies?

Dental registers the equal highest share of consumers who use private healthcare to access treatments (18%). That reflects a long-term shortage of dentists working in the NHS, according to the British Dental Association.

But away from teeth, it’s in-patient and day-patient care which have been accessed the most. Nearly two in ten Britons (18%) use private healthcare for hospital fees, consultant fees, and diagnostic tests, among other expenses for in-patient and day-patient treatments.

But primary care is also high on the list of services accessed by those with private health insurance – as prompt GP care has also become difficult to access for patients in some areas. Almost one in five (17%) of those with health insurance have used it to see a GP. 

Elective procedures like cosmetic surgery (7%) and weight loss surgery (4%) are less common treatments chosen to access through private healthcare – and that’s probably because policies often exclude many categories of this type of treatment.

Only around one in 20 consumers (6%) choose to undergo cancer treatments while using their private healthcare, similar to pregnancy complications (6%) and fertility treatments (5%).

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Methodology: YouGov Profiles is based on continuously collected data and rolling surveys, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Profiles data for Great Britain is nationally representative and weighted by age, gender, education, region, and race. Learn more about Profiles.

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