The introduction of a controversial healthcare act in England is encouraging hospitals to treat more private patients to raise funds – allegedly increasing waiting times for those being seen on the NHS.

NHS for sale

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 opened up the possibility for hospitals to raise up to 49 per cent of their income from treating private patients. Previously they were only allowed to raise about 2 per cent from private sources.

Critics at the time voiced concerns that those who could afford to pay for their own treatment would be prioritised over those who depend on the national healthcare system. It was felt waiting times would increase and the lives of the most vulnerable – those who cannot afford to pay for treatment – would be put at risk.

Certainly it seems that hospitals are making use of this potential new cash stream. In November The Guardian reported that some hospitals in England had increased their private income by an average of 10 per cent since 2010. More ambitious figures were revealed for the more industrious and enterprising NHS trusts.

Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust increased its private income by 60 per cent, bringing in £8 million in the space of just five financial years thanks to the act. Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust saw its private patient income leap by 123 per cent from £613,000 in 2009/10 to £1.5 million in 2014.

And with many hospitals opting to take on more private patients it seems that NHS waiting times have increased, which has led to a ‘crisis of confidence’ for NHS customers – also discussed in the same Guardian article.

It seems the 2012 act is only adding to the concerns of patients who cannot afford private healthcare.

A survey from Saga Health Insurance in March last year found that 42 per cent of over-50s felt the quality of care provided by the NHS was poorer – a significant increase from a similar survey conducted in 2009, which showed only 17 per cent shared these sentiments.

As customer satisfaction drops and waiting times grow, health insurance providers are finding new and inspiring incentives in a bid to encourage patients to take out a healthcare policy.

Saga is one such operator that not only pledges to offer affordable protection, but a unique four week wait option that guarantees patients on the plan will be seen immediately by a private hospital where the NHS waiting time for a procedure is longer than four weeks.

Furthermore those experiencing one of nine common conditions such as varicose veins or cataracts will receive immediate treatment even if they have taken out the four week wait option.

It’s an assurance that some hospital departments are struggling to give.

Some fear private patients are ‘jumping the queue’ and yet more and more people are dissatisfied with the NHS, meaning the allure of affordable alternatives for those who want – or need – to be seen sooner are becoming feasible alternatives.

Perhaps the future of healthcare is a public-private blend, one that provides a level of assurance to vulnerable patients and removes the concerns over NHS care.

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