Prepare for self-pay rush

By Robin Stride

Independent practitioners are being advised to scrub up for a self-pay patient bonanza bringing up to 20% growth a year.

New research found nearly half of hospitals and clinics predicting a 10-15% rise by 2018 at the expense of personal and corporate private medical insurance (PMI) policies

It forecast big regional disparities in self-pay growth, with consultants in London taking the largest share with a fifth more self-payers annually, largely driven by patients from overseas.

The study, compiled from an online survey and one-to-one interviews with over 70 leading figures in the UK provider market, was published by medical publishers Intuition Communication.

It said providers and commentators had consistently reported double-digit growth in self-pay, as predicted in its first report two years ago.

Keith Pollard

Keith Pollard

But a key difference now was a much narrower range of prices, which it said suggested competition was having an effect. Prices were more transparent ‘as healthcare providers invest in the only part of the market that is showing sustainable growth’.

Intuition Communication chief executive Keith Pollard claimed that the Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study 2015 should be a wake-up call for insurers.

He said: ‘If this report tells us one thing, it’s that the traditional models of PMI are simply not going to be sustainable in the future – either for corporate or personally-paid policies. Insurers have yet to demonstrate real innovation in a way that delivers better value for consumers.’

Healthcare providers’ positivity about the current state and future potential of the self-pay market was ‘very encouraging’.

Self-pay key findingsBut Bupa UK general manager Alex Perry denied the rise in self-pay was responsible for the fall in PMI. He said: ‘The consumer market for PMI has been in decline since 1997 since the removal of tax relief.

‘Seventy-five per cent of lives covered through PMI are currently employer-paid, while the self-pay market is predominately purchased by individuals who value the benefits of private healthcare on a pay-as-you-go basis.’

He welcomed the growth in the self-pay market where, he said, the insurer was playing an active role through Bupa on Demand. ‘It demonstrates the increasing demand for private healthcare and that people want to use private services.’

Researcher Liz Heath said price did not appear to be the most influential factor in decision-making. Choice and reputation of consultants, local access and customer service were mainly valued more highly by patients.

GPs still had an important role to play in guiding patients and this figured strongly in the survey as an area providers aimed to invest in. She believed clinicians and providers needed to widen their appeal and make their services and organisations more accessible and welcoming.

They had to ensure the patient experience was of the highest standard so that patients chose private treatment again and recommend it to friends and family.