Pricing anomalies attacked

Massive differences between the prices charged in private hospitals for the same operations are causing confusion and concern to would- be self-pay patients, the conference heard.

According to LaingBuisson’s self-pay pricing analysis, using the example of total hip replacement, the cheapest was £9,025 at three NHS treatment centres.

But patients could pay over £6,000 more at the most expensive venue. The op at the Nuffield Health Cambridge Hosp­ital cost £15,625. The average was £11,826.

Self-pay adviser Richard Gregory said the market should not be seeing any more of these huge fluctuations. Prices could differ vastly even among one provider’s units within a few miles of each other.

Much of the differences being seen in prices were historical and he doubted there had been a concerted pricing strategy.

‘In my view, and it’s always been a bugbear of mine, there should be more price convergence. I don’t necessarily feel that there should be one price for a hip across the UK; for example, a national price. 

‘I think the emphasis should be more on convergence. So for hospitals to achieve that they probably need to be better at negotiating more common rates for surgical and anaesthetists fees.’ 

Liz Heath, author of Laing­Buisson’s annual reports on self-pay, said some providers had standardised their pricing across the country, which was helpful for consumers if there were several hospitals run by the same provider within their catchment area. 

But she said some big anomalies in pricing still existed and for anyone in an area where there were many local options, then these would be ‘confusing at best and worrying at worst’ .

In some procedures, there was much less price variation across the country where the pathway had been more standardised. But there was work to be done on the wide variation of prices, although the average price point might not have greatly shifted.

Responding to a question, Nuffield Health hospitals commercial director Jenni Wilson said there was no standard pricing across the charity. 

But she said it was important to know if prices were a like-for-like comparison; for example, a physiotherapy service might be included in one locality but not another.

She said she ‘tended’ to agree with Mr Gregory’s comments but felt that as this market continued to grow and mature, there would be fewer outliers.