Self-paying patients driving the recovery of the private health sector, new research published by Intuition Communication

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New research suggests the rise in self-paying private medical patients may be driven by NHS waiting lists combined with the rising cost of health insurance. Also, thanks to Competition Commission enquiry, patients can finally shop around on price as well as quality.

Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study 2013

Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study 2013

There is a real sense of optimism developing about the future of the self-pay market.

New research published this week by Intuition Communication, one of the leading independent UK authorities on private healthcare, suggests that people are turning to “self-pay” private surgery in response to lengthening NHS waiting lists and the escalating cost of private health insurance.

The research also highlights the wide variation of the costs of surgery in the UK’s private hospitals and how consumers are finally able to shop around for the best “fixed price surgery” deal thanks to the on-going Competition Commission enquiry into the sector.

The Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study 2013 has been compiled by the research team at, the UK’s only independent guide to the private healthcare sector.

The report is the first in-depth analysis of the growing self-pay market for elective surgery in the UK. The research highlights the factors behind the growth of the self-pay market for elective surgery, examines the offerings of the major healthcare providers, and includes an in depth analysis of pricing in the self-pay market. More than 7,800 prices for a range of diagnostic procedures, treatments and surgical procedures were analysed.

The growth in the self-pay market is in contrast to the private medical insurance market, which is declining. According to market commentators, Laing & Buisson, 10.8% of the UK population are currently covered by private medical insurance – the lowest rate in more than 20 years.

The key findings of the new research include:

  • The most popular self-pay treatments in terms of number of procedures undertaken are orthopaedic surgery (25%), eye surgery (22%) and general surgery (11%).
  • 47% of industry respondents said the number of self-pay patients had increased by at least 10% in the last year.
  • 77% of industry respondents expect self-pay to increase over the next three years.
  • There is wide variation and little apparent rationale for the pricing of self-pay private treatment. The range of prices provided for some procedures varied by more than 100% from the lowest to the highest. For example:

o The quoted price of a single area MRI scan varies across the UK from £240 in Darlington to £734 in Beckenham.
o The quoted price of a hip replacement varies across the UK from £7,610 in Essex to £14,980 in Norwich.
o The quoted price of cataract surgery varies across the UK from £1,200 in London to £3,537 in Slough.

  • The main factors influencing the growth of the self-pay market are rising private medical insurance premiums, reduced confidence in NHS services and reduced access to NHS services.
  • The reality (or perception) of rising NHS waiting times was seen as a major factor on the willingness of patients to switch to self-pay options.
  • Demographics will continue to drive the growth in self-pay with increasing numbers of older people choosing to invest in maintaining their health and quality of life. 31.9% of respondents to our online survey believe the greatest demand for self-pay treatment in the future is likely to be in the 45 to 54 age group.

The research was carried out among 110 leading industry figures including representatives of the UK market providers, clinicians, third party administrators and senior decision makers in NHS private patient units. The research was carried out via an online survey and face to face interviews.

This is the first research to look at regional price differences for the same treatment. This has never been possible before due to the reluctance of private medical providers to publish prices publicly. The recent and on-going enquiry by the Competition Commission has, however, encouraged providers to publish prices for standard procedures, allowing comparisons to be made for the first time.

Keith Pollard, CEO of Intuition Communication, publishers of Private Healthcare UK, who commissioned the report says the findings will come as reassurance to many in the private healthcare market:

“There is a real sense of optimism developing about the future of the self-pay market and this view was consistent from everyone we spoke to or surveyed as part of this research. Estimates on the scale of growth vary but most feel at least a double-digit growth over the next three years is realistic.

“We hope that private medical providers and practitioners will see this report as a wake-up call to see the possibilities offered to their businesses by self-paying patients and will consider their marketing strategies and communications messages accordingly to make the most of this growth opportunity.

“We are particularly encouraged that private medical providers are finally publishing their prices for private operations, stimulated by the Competition Commission investigation. This is hugely significant, however, as it allows consumers to shop around for treatment on price as well as quality of care, something that’s not been easy before and will, I believe, lead to a fairer market for those considering self-paying for private surgery and treatment.”

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