By Robin Stride
A £1billion self-pay acute market is now seen as a potential reality in the UK within the next four years – and business-minded consultants are being advised to gear up to take advantage of it.
The rise and rise of self-pay patients is a key feature of a new report out this month which found observers and commentators agree this market growth is between 10% and 20% a year.
According to the Private Healthcare UK Self-pay Market Report 2017, the growth rate is as much as 25% a year in London. But if a straight line growth of around 15% a year is assumed for the next three years, then the self-pay market non-cosmetic spend could rise from its current level at around £623m to around £948m by 2020.
A document highlighting key themes of the report, researched and written by chief executive Keith Pollard and his team at www.privatehealth.co.uk, stresses that the role and visibility of consultants is changing and there is now a greater need than ever for them to collaborate with providers to design and deliver self-pay pathways.
It recognises there is a growing trend for consultants to establish a strong personal online and digital presence and says this will have an important future role in influencing patient choice.
A researcher told Independent Practitioner Today: ‘The opportunity rests with the consultant to proactively engage with providers.
‘Do consultants have a role to play in ensuring how this market goes? Yes, very much so and, either collaboratively as a group or as individuals, they need to engage proactively at a local level with hospitals.
‘With private hospitals, they need to sometimes make the first move if they have a procedure or specialty or way of doing something – or see a market opportunity. They need to take the initiative.’
She believed it was important to be more consumer-focused and encourage loyalty by being imaginative about what could be offered before and after treatment.
‘There are many entrepreneurial consultants who have a very good business brain and that’s a skill they can apply to this market to think from the consumer perspective rather than provider perspective.’
Private Healthcare UK’s research, conducted between July and August 2017, included one-to-one interviews with leading figures in the UK provider market, third-party administrators, clinicians and NHS private patient units (PPUs).
There was also an online survey of industry participants and collection of self-pay pricing information for the most commonly performed surgical procedures, treatments and higher-cost diagnostics from independent providers.
The company collected and analysed around 6,000 prices for a range of diagnostic procedures, treatments and surgical procedures most commonly carried out for self-paying patients.
Feedback showed the proportion of self-pay income in some PPUs appeared slightly lower than stand-alone units.
Most were found not to highlight self-pay as much as other providers in their promotional information and many published no guide prices.
All commentators agreed the self-pay market had consolidated recent growth and was an increasingly important market sector.
Respondents and interviewees felt the top three drivers of self-pay were NHS waiting times, local marketing campaigns and clinical commissioning group initiatives to manage demand.
The report says patients are voicing particular dissatisfaction at these ploys to avoid placing them on waiting lists when there is clear clinical need.
Increasingly restrictive NHS funding criteria in orthopaedics, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, gynaecology and urology was fuelling higher self-pay demand.
One surprise in the report was a finding that 34.6% of respondents said they intended to allocate under 5% of their marketing budget to the self-pay market. But 20.4% said they would commit over 30% of their budget.
Researchers said: ‘This seems anomalous considering most agree the self-pay market is the one most likely to be able to produce growth. This may reflect the mix of respondents.’