Everyone knows the NHS is in crisis. News reports bring doom and gloom about our beloved, creaking monolith on a daily basis. A recent report published by the National Audit Office calls into question the financial sustainability of the NHS, with the financial performance of NHS bodies having worsened considerably in 2015-16.
Here, Mike James – working with healthcare insurance broker Flexible Health – lifts the lid on whether more serious thought is required for private healthcare.
Pressure on the government to increase NHS funding has never been greater, especially following the leave campaign’s pledges that Brexit would mean an extra £350m a week for the crumbling NHS, which is not apparently so. In an exchange with Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs, Theresa May retorted that the NHS can only be paid for by a strong economy. If only it were that simple.
The NHS waiting list crisis isn’t new either. Hospital and GP surgery closures is the latest in a long line of catastrophes for the public using a creaking service. With more and more people concerned about getting the treatment they need, an increasing proportion of society are tuning into other options. The number of people paying for one-off operations and treatments is on the rise, and private health insurance companies are offering enticingly competitive rates. With recent news of further changes to healthcare access painting a worrying picture, we have to ask the question – is it time to take private health insurance seriously?
A passport to good health?
The latest post-Brexit crackpot idea is for us to show our passport to access NHS care. Has the world gone mad? Oh, and a utility bill. What if we don’t have a passport? Or indeed a utility bill? The measures are to supposedly stop hordes of immigrants flooding to the UK to use our magnificent health service without paying for the privilege. It’s health tourism – the new buzz word.
According to a report in The Independent, at least 20 per cent of residents in England and Wales don’t have a British passport. The report concludes that passport access to NHS health care is a another policy proposal that fails to understand the complexities of a life lived in deep poverty. “The result: since we know that poor health is directly correlated to living in poverty, we’re proposing to make it deliberately harder for those who are likely most in need of NHS services, and who are legitimately entitled to use them.”
Where has my GP gone?
The BBC news reports of a leaked letter from NHS England earlier this year, indicating that some struggling GP surgeries in England will be allowed to fail and close. It’s already happening. The Independent reports that 201 GP practices have closed in the past year and another 750 may follow.
The NHS is apparently also planning to close hospitals and A&E departments, but it has been kept a secret from the public. That’s the heads up in a report from the leading healthcare think tank, The King’s Fund.
How long do I have to wait? … it’s kind of urgent
It’s no surprise to learn that the NHS isn’t meeting many of its key performance targets. That includes waiting lists, which are higher than ever before. The number of people waiting for routine, but life-enhancing, treatments, such as cataract removals, hernia repairs and hip and knee replacements has climbed to a record 3.9 million.
Current guidelines expect the ‘referral-to-treatment’ (RTT) pathway to happen within 18 weeks. In some areas, it’s falling woefully short. On top of which bed-blocking (when patients are fit to leave but social care support is not in place) has also reached record levels.
Is private health care the answer?
There’s already concern that we are moving towards a two-tiered health system. Those who can afford it are shopping for private medical insurance just like any other utility. There is the argument that those who can afford it should pay, and that many who choose a private medical route are helping take the burden off our already overloaded NHS. One NHS doctor, Dr Seth Rankin, who is also working in private practice said exactly that in a report he wrote for The Independent earlier this year.
There is the issue, however, of an inclusive society, and what we value as part of our public services. A free health service for all at the point of access was the great claim of post-war Britain. It’s been the envy of many from all over the world for years. How sustainable this ideal is remains to be seen. It continues to be a hotly debated topic. Maybe it’s time those of us who can afford it take the plunge.