Private healthcare is something of a controversial subject in the UK, particularly when set against the stature and principles of our National Health Service – a public service, free at the point of use to every citizen and which strives to provide the best possible quality of care. The NHS is a source of great pride for the nation, but it is also in trouble.
While private healthcare systems such as the US’ insurance-based model are notoriously flawed, private healthcare in general simply represents an alternative route to treatment. This route is often designed to be quicker and more efficient in terms of care, an attribute that has turned from a luxury to a valued commodity, and even a necessity. But how has this come to pass, and does paying for private healthcare measure up to its cost?
The NHS problem
The NHS is widely beloved as a system and relied upon by tens of millions of UK citizens. But after a decade of systemic underfunding, secondary impacts of UK’s departure from the EU and the unprecedented pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the system as a whole is in critical condition.
Hospitals, GP practices and other care facilities are understaffed, exacerbating long waiting times for everything from emergency care to routine treatments. Large swathes of hospital space continue to be taken up by patients with severe coronavirus symptoms, slowing the pace of outpatient care and causing government intervention in the form of block-booking residential beds to enable hospital release.
The result of these circumstances is limited access to care for a majority of people in the UK, and a lower standard of care for those able to eventually get seen. As hospitals and GPs are stretched to breaking, negligent treatment is at serious risk of increasing.
Incentives for private healthcare
The above factors are incentive enough for some to start considering alternatives to their healthcare arrangements. In certain cases, even NHS staff are advising patients to actively seek out private care in order to avoid considerable waits for treatment.
There are different routes to private healthcare; for example, some employers offer healthcare plans as a key benefit to staff. Here though, it is assumed that patients are seeking out private care of their own accord. Private care has already been normalised in dentistry, as NHS dentist numbers continue to dwindle. As such, private care seems quick, efficient and more familiar than at first glance.
Costs and other factors
But private healthcare can be considerably expensive, depending on the provider, course of treatment required and the length of your treatment. It is often only affordable through an insurance plan, which itself represents a significant long-term expense.
Private healthcare remains a taboo subject, as government efforts seemingly lean towards the privatisation of the NHS. With private healthcare providers sharing a key majority of staff and systems with the NHS, in many cases you are simply paying for quicker access to the same care – and potentially furthering erosion of the NHS as a whole.