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Private care options: relieve savings pressure

5 July 2011

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Group Chief Executive
BMI Healthcare

Although many of today’s health sector headines revolve around the coalition government’s proposed restructuring of the NHS, we all know that trusts are feeling a more immediate impact by the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) programme and its challenge for the NHS to make £20bn of efficiency savings 
by 2015.

With healthcare budgets already struggling to cope with increasing demand – driven by an ageing population as well as the rising cost of medical technology and new drugs – finding ways to achieve greater efficiency savings while delivering improved outcomes is becoming more difficult each day as GPs are pressured to reduce referrals to secondary care providers.

The media are already reporting fertility, weight-loss and other elective surgeries, such as hip or knee replacements, being delayed or deferred as trusts struggle to balance the books. Waiting lists for lower-priority treatments are starting to rise in some parts of the country, and given these circumstances, it is not surprising that some patients are seeking to bypass the wait by opting for private treatment. This can be funded not just through the traditional health insurance route, but increasingly through ‘self-pay’ (that is, by funding their treatments out of their own pockets).

The advantages of treatment offered by the independent health sector are well known. No waiting lists, choice of consultant, treatment at a time and location convenient for the patient, high patient satisfaction rates and low risk of infection. These advantages – set against a rise in wait times and the increasing number of delisted procedures – have seen some independent hospital operators, including BMI, reporting small but noticeable upturns in demand from patients willing to pay for private care. This also reflects a small but important shift in the health insurance market, with more people now preferring to pay privately on a one-off upfront basis rather than through monthly premiums.

Another reason for the growth in this part of the market is that independent hospital operators are putting greater effort into promoting self-pay as a funding option, with prices seen as good value given the associated quality of life benefits. For example, the cost of hernia surgery can start from as little as £1,300, and £1,800 for cataract removal. At BMI Healthcare, our own patient experience shows that self-pay is increasingly being seen as a viable option for people seeking timely care, with some patients more than happy to cancel a holiday in order to pay for a new knee or hip.

We are of course conscious that not everyone can afford independent treatment. However, offering patient choice is paramount and reminding people of the option of using their insurance or self-paying for private treatment can only release savings for the NHS and pressure on your own practice.

For more information about private referrals, visit