The pandemic has exacerbated the services of the NHS massively with 16 million people struggling to receive care during the pandemic. This has led to an increased number of patients deciding to get treated privately instead. Waiting lists for NHS services remain lengthy with some patients waiting over a year to get specialised care. In the Health and Care report for 2022 carried out by the IPPR, it was discovered that 59% of the adults asked were unable to afford private healthcare. The authors of the report said that this could lead to ‘an unequal, two-tier system emerging, where “a mediocre standard is available for everyone, but the best is only available to those who can and are willing to pay”.’
The article further discussed the various options that private healthcare presents and the range of prices for certain procedures as well as general care.
The effects of the pandemic on the NHS
The COVID-19 pandemic placed a huge strain on the NHS due to the urgent need for COVID related care across the health service. In 2020, the BMA estimated that within the first three months of the pandemic, there were between 1.32 and 1.5 million fewer elective admissions than expected, between 274,000 and 286,000 fewer urgent cancer referrals and between 20,800 and 25,900 fewer patients starting first cancer treatments following urgent GP referral. More than 1 in 10 patients turned towards private care during the pandemic.
These statistics demonstrate just how many patients were unable to treated and therefore how long the backlog of patients awaiting treatment is. Whilst the NHS attempts to tackle this backlog, more and more people continue to need urgent care today. Do you think the NHS will be able to fully recover from the losses the pandemic left it with? If the
The need for a free public health service
In the NHS constitution, it is established that the NHS is accessible to all and is based on clinical need. It does not discriminate based on a patient's financial situation. However, if the NHS is unable to deliver effective and timely care to people, many will be turning towards private services. For those that can afford it, this makes sense, and ultimately relieves pressure on the NHS, allowing patients who cannot afford it to move up on the waiting lists. But with the cost-of-living crisis and increasing unemployment, many people will not be able to afford private insurance or pay for treatments outright. This will likely knock a lot of people into huge debt, or mean many people simply settle with substandard and delayed care. What impact will this have on health inequalities that exist? Is it fair to ask or expect people who can afford private care to use this instead of NHS services?