Self-pay rise continues

LaingBuisson private healthcare summit 2022

Robin Stride reports from this year’s lively conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster

Promising self-pay market growth last year looks set to continue in the months ahead, the conference heard.

LaingBuisson self-pay consultant Liz Heath forecasted growth of 10% a year might be achievable.

Most of the 200-plus audience indicated they were very positive about self-pay’s potential, with 56% predicting growth of 15% or more in the next 12months.

Liz Heath

Mrs Heath called on the private healthcare industry to understand and respond to what appeared to be fundamental shifts in consumer attitudes to independent treatment.

But she cautioned that the potential for self-pay could be hit by economic factors, capacity or staffing issues. Interest needed to be converted into activity and people helped to understand how to obtain private treatment.

She said the over-55s were the key demographic but younger age groups should not be forgotten. Many needed guidance and support because the private sector was new to them.

Around a fifth of private hospital revenues have been coming from self-pay, but new figures are expected to show a big increase as people seek to avoid the 6.1m+ NHS waiting lists.

Speakers agreed people were looking for information on cost, prices and affordability – but there was criticism that hospitals were not making this easy.

Finding this information on some hospital websites takes too many clicks – meaning hospitals and consultants lose business.

Pricing clarity was criticised by freelance healthcare consultant Aileen Morrison who warned: ‘The whole experience for the patient can be tainted when they get the final bill.’

She said the industry now had the chance to treat self-pay as a long-term opportunity where people would return as self-payers or see the value of private medical insurance. It was time providers thought more about the customer.

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Prov­iders Network, said there was ‘a huge opportunity for the sector to go out and help people navigate their way into private treatment.’

Speaking of his experience, ‘patient John’ described a tiresome mountain of red tape, phone calls and conversations to finally secure treatment through his private medical insurance policy. This contrasted markedly with what happened when finally at the hospital – treatment to discharge was excellent.

On another occasion, he made phone calls to four hospitals about an operation for his young son. Only one bothered to get back to him – and that one got the business.

Rachel Power, Patients’ Associa­tion boss, said patients complained about bad communication all the time. 

Dr Gajan Srikanthan, medical director at digital solutions company Lumeon, said three key problems faced everyone in healthcare: staff shortages and burnout, reducing margins and higher expectations from digitally experienced patients.