Digital services used by private doctors during Covid-19 have reaped some big successes during difficult business conditions for the independent healthcare sector, according to a new report.
The publication, from market analysts LaingBuisson, highlights the remote services offered by hospitals and clinics with a strong focus on international patients.
These have enabled patients to access leading UK specialists at a time when global travel has been restricted.
LaingBuisson’s UK Healthcare Market Review 33rd edition reports that at the same time the rapid development of remote services during the pandemic has supported improvements in clinical practice through knowledge sharing and multidisciplinary teams.
Authors say many hospitals now have established partnerships with specialist digital providers to offer secondary care consultations, and telemedicine to support ‘before’ and ‘after’ treatment.
Rapid development of remote consultation services and telemedicine during the pandemic have now become a core part of patient pathways.
Turning to private patient units (PPUs), the report states: ‘For many private patient facilities at NHS trusts, change from Covid was more stark as some private units and areas were re-purposed either as respiratory wards or to accommodate urgent and essential specialties or re-assigned to clear NHS waiting lists.
‘The larger specialist NHS PPUs, particularly those within oncology, cardiology, maternity, paediatrics and orthopaedics, were less affected and have returned to more normal private activity.
‘However, for others, private activity was limited for much longer as capacity was dedicated to other purposes. This is still the case within some trusts which continue to deal with significant numbers of coronavirus patients, or have dedicated their private capacity to reduce NHS waiting lists.’
The report highlights the unprecedented effect the pandemic had on the healthcare market last year as routine elective surgery was restricted between April and June, and private hospitals offered capacity to the NHS to treat Covid patients.
Estimates put 2020’s decline in private activity at 30%, but LaingBuisson believes the situation was worse for independent sector hospitals which supported the NHS over an extended period, and NHS PPUs.
But it reports a positive outlook for consultants in private practice: ‘Private acute healthcare activity picked up well in Autumn 2020 as hospitals and clinics caught up on delayed treatment, though the catch-up was held back at the start of the year by another Covid lockdown.
‘Private activity is expected to catch up further in the second part of 2021 and going into 2022 as referral behaviour reflects a post-Covid environment.
‘There has been a strong increased interest in private healthcare which started during the first lockdown in 2020 and has continued due to higher numbers waiting for NHS waiting, and longer average waits, along with the benefits of remote access to healthcare professionals and healthcare support during the Covid pandemic offered by private care.
‘As such private activity for hospitals and clinics is expected to expand in the medium term.’