Self-pay still surging

By Robin Stride

The surge in the number of self-paying patients is continuing and is now being experienced nationwide, according to a leading analyst.

Liz Heath

Self-pay expert Liz Heath says growth in demand for self-pay is being seen across all areas of the UK, including areas that have not traditionally been private healthcare ‘hot spots’, such as Wales and Scotland.

The author of the newly published fifth edition of Laing­Buisson’s Private Healthcare Self-Pay UK Market Report states that research from multiple sources shows many patients are viewing a private doctor option for the first time.  

But she warns they may have little knowledge of how to navigate the system and need support along the way.

Useful tips

In this issue of Independent Pract­itioner Today, she gives consultants who are aiming to boost their self-pay income some useful tips.

And she stresses it is crucial to ensure prospective patients receive prompt responses to their inquiries and are signposted to the right choice for them.

‘Inaccurate contact information or a lack of response gives a poor impression to a potential patient in a climate where we are all used to immediacy and “on demand” services,’ Mrs Heath says.  

‘Affordability is frequently cited as a key decision-making factor by patients and visibility of consultant fees is a positive step. 

‘LaingBuisson’s pricing analysis found that most procedure prices reviewed had increased broadly in line with general and medical inflation, but there is still a vast range in some cases between highest and lowest prices.’  


Confusing for consumers

She went on to explain that the guide price for a primary knee replacement varies across the UK between around £9,000 and £17,000, which is unhelpful and confusing for the consumer. The average guide price in 2023 is £13,781, a rise of 5.17% on 2021-22.

Despite inflation concerns, market analysts LaingBuisson observe a growing interest in self-pay-funded procedures, ‘most likely fuelled by long NHS waiting lists’. 

It reports that some providers have regionalised or harmonised their price structures across the UK while others stick to local pricing ‘with localism a large factor for consumers’. 

There is little evidence of a ‘race to the bottom’ in price competitiveness. Prices for the highest volume self-pay and cosmetic surgery procedures have risen but are below overall inflation.

Some NHS private patient units (PPUs) are making efforts to attract self-pay customers, but Laing­Buisson says consultants working in others are potentially missing out on an opportunity to compete locally with the independent sector. This is due to PPUs’ failure to capitalise on their access to high-quality NHS care.

It warns that the scale of future growth is difficult to estimate due to constraints on the private sector’s ability to expand capacity – primarily related to staffing and resourcing shortages.

Growth to continue

Mrs Heath adds: ‘Forward projections are always difficult to make, but based on the recent growth trajectory, all indicators are that self-pay growth will continue. 

‘There are signs of some recovery in NHS private patient revenues, but these are very variable and may depend on geography, the existence of dedicated private patient beds and local pressures. 

‘We have noted that a number of NHS trusts have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate their private patient offer, particularly for self-pay patients, and this is reflected in much wider availability of information and prices for procedures, including cosmetic surgery, within NHS private patient services. 

‘Therefore, it is clear that some trusts are very well-placed to optimise the opportunity to recover private patient income in the future. Many trusts report optimism about the future prospects for their private activity growth overall.

‘Long term, there are favourable signals for growth in private spending on acute medical care in the UK, as individuals, companies, and overseas customers have strong interest in the private healthcare product and its capabilities across the healthcare spectrum. 

‘However, the strength of growth is likely to depend on the ability of providers to convert interest into realised demand, and effectively target varied customer needs.’