Patients spend a record £1BILLION on private operations

Patients spend a record £1.1BILLION on private healthcare to avoid soaring NHS waiting times which leave them ‘let down and suffering’

  • People spent 75 per cent more on private medical treatment in 2017 than 2012   
  • Knee and hip ops, cataracts and cancer treatment were the most common
  • The data comes from an analysis by market intelligence company Laingbuisson 

People in the UK spent a record £1.1billion on private healthcare last year in an attempts to avoid NHS waiting times.

Excluding cosmetic surgery, the amount spent on private treatments rose 75 per cent to £793milllion between 2012 and 2017.

Knee and hip operations, cataract surgery and cancer treatment are the three most commonly paid-for therapies.

Experts warn longer waits for free healthcare are ‘without doubt’ driving people to fork out, with some parts of the NHS keeping people waiting until their conditions become constantly painful or crippling.

And patients’ rights campaigners say people who can’t afford surgery’s hefty price tags have ‘no choice but to suffer when the NHS lets them down’.

Excluding cosmetic surgery, the amount spent on private treatments rose 75 per cent to £793milllion between 2012 and 2017

An analysis by market intelligence company Laingbuisson revealed some NHS hospitals are even making a profit because of income from their private units.

Many people are paying one-off costs for treatment when they need it, with no big change in the number of people paying for private insurance, The Times reported.

There are more than four million people on waiting lists for NHS treatment in England and national waiting time targets haven’t been met for at least two years.

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‘Lengthening waiting lists without doubt are driving it,’ said Laingbuisson chairman Keith Pollard.

‘It’s the big routine stuff – hips, knees, cataract operations, hernia operations – that isn’t seen as urgent.’

The £1.1billion figure is the first time the spending has passed into 10 figures, and the amount people are paying themselves has risen 50 per cent in five years.

Private revenue for NHS hospitals has risen to £620million, up around 20 per cent in the same time period, the analysis said.

Surgery rationing done by the health service is partly to blame, experts said.

Patients paying for the most common procedures – cataract surgery or knee or hip replacements – can be denied an op by the NHS until they can’t see or are living in constant pain.

The Patients Association’s John Kell told The Times: ‘When someone is facing a long wait for surgery, in pain and discomfort, they can’t be blamed for paying to shorten that wait if they have the means to do so.

‘But we must remember that many people do not have that option, and they have no choice but to suffer when the NHS lets them down.

‘The NHS should never put patients in this position, and funding choices by government should never have put the NHS in this position.’

The average hip replacement costs £11,468 at a private hospital, with the price as high as £15,050 in some places.

And cataract surgery costs £2,464 on average, rising to as high as £3,535.

The entire private healthcare sector is worth £5.8billion, 20 per cent more than it was in 2012.


The number of patients on NHS waiting lists has hit four million for the first time in more than a decade.

Waiting lists for routine treatments rose by more than half in seven years, from 2.6million in 2011 to 4.1million in September.

More than 3,000 patients have been waiting longer than a year for treatment, according to the NHS England figures.

Those waiting at least six months have also risen by 70,000 in the last year alone. The NHS has failed to hit the 92 per cent 18 -week target for patients to be referred for consultant care, since February 2016.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS carried out 2.1million more operations and saw more than 11.5 million more outpatients in the last 12 months compared to 2009-10.

But after Labour’s analysis, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Let’s be clear, this means patients waiting longer and longer in pain, distress and anxiety.’

A DHSC spokesman said more than a million patients start treatment every month and nearly 15,000 fewer people are waiting over a year for non-urgent operations.

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