In the News
NHS waiting times forcing people to self-fund treatment | Increasing health inequalities
Long waiting times for healthcare treatments on the NHS are forcing people to pay for private care – with some people using crowdfunding to pay the bill.
This BBC article - NHS waits force patients to pay for private ops - reports that there were 69,000 self-funded treatments in the UK in the final three months of last year - a 39% rise on the same period before the pandemic. This chart clearly shows an increase in people paying privately:
It is so-called elective surgeries and treatments that people are waiting for. Elective surgeries are those that are clinically required as part of your treatment but are not an emergency procedure that needs to be done immediately. For example, a knee replacement may be required to reduce pain, restore mobility, promote independence and improve quality of life, but needing a knee replacement does not pose an immediate threat to life.
There are now more than 6.6 million people waiting for hospital treatment in England and it is feared it could be another 2 years before long waiting times start to fall. Data suggests that this steep increase is associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, which at its peak shut down much routine hospital activity and elective surgeries and continues to affect staffing levels today.
This chart illustrates the steep rise in the number of people waiting, in particular 18 weeks to one year, since the pandemic:
There are concerns that the waiting times issue will create a ‘two tier’ system, where those that can afford to, will skip the wait by opting for private care, whilst those on lower incomes – that we already know have poorer health outcomes – will be forced to wait it out. This will result in more time spent in pain, with a reduced quality of life and the associated physical and mental health risks and financial implications that come with that.
Louise Ansari, Chief Executive of Healthwatch England has said:
"People on the lowest incomes are the most likely to wait the longest for NHS treatment. This leads to a worse impact on their physical health, mental health and ability to work and care for loved ones."
The implications are multiple, including an increasing burden on health and social care services, increasing barriers to accessing health and social care services, and increasing inequalities in health.
To read more about health inequalities, the King’s Fund have a great explainer - What are health inequalities?