IHPN’s meeting agrees the future appears healthy

IHPN summit

The Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) annual summit was buzzing after attracting 135 people from 86 organisations across the sector. David Hare reports on the positive mood of private health businesses.

It’s always great to see the industry come together and I felt it was an excellent opportunity for us all to get into one room to connect and discuss the issues pertinent to us. 

I was absolutely thrilled with the event. I felt we really got into the meaty issues facing the industry. There was a really positive sense in the room about where the market is headed and that was reflected in conversations I had. 

There was much focus on the political environment – including what a change of government will mean for independent and private healthcare.

We considered the future of the NHS and independent sector relationships in the context of the Elective Recovery Taskforce and what providers can do to tackle workforce challenges and contribute to a sustainable health system.

We also looked more specifically at the private market and what the future may hold.

We thought this year’s event was probably one of the best ever in terms of the quality of speakers, the insight and the value of the debate and discussion.  

IHPN’s chairwoman Seema Kennedy OBE (left) interviewed The Spectator’s deputy editor Isabel Hardman who has written a book entitled Fighting For Life, about 12 battles that have formed the NHS and the struggle for its future

The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman, who recently published an excellent book on the history of the NHS, did a brilliant question and answer session with our chairwoman, Seema Kennedy, reflecting on the history of the health service and the independent sector, with some consideration about her take on the current political leanings. 

A politics of health session was packed out, with Sean Phillips, head of health and social care at the Policy Exchange and Tom Hamilton, head of social policy at Public First, speaking with me and Danielle Henry, assistant director of policy and programmes at IHPN. 

Earlier in the day, we spoke to Alan Milburn about what a Labour government could mean for the independent sector. 

As health secretary in the Blair cabinet, and faced with not dissimilar challenges, it was fascinating to hear his take on the parallels, similarities and differences with today’s world. 

His tongue-in-cheek line that ‘Liz Truss may have been right’ on the need for economic growth – with the caveat that she got the diagnosis but very much not the treatment – was one of the lines of the day.


Brilliant speakers

Chief executive David Hare (right) with Health Secretary Steve Barclay in one of his last appearances in that role

Our roster of brilliant speakers included the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Services Steve Barclay. Ironically, given that so much of the day was spent talking about the charged political context, this was to be one of his final appearances and speeches in the role. 

He announced that the target of opening 160 community diagnostic centres will be met a year early, and held a Q&A session answering questions on workforce, community provision and innovative models of care. 

Mr Barclay also announced that some patients waiting more than 40 weeks will now be contacted and offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital for treatment.

This is good news for patients. The fact that patients waiting a long time for treatment will be offered additional choices of providers, who may be able to treat them more quickly, is welcome and a big step forward in delivering the commitments of the Prime Minister’s Elective Recovery Task­force. 

At IHPN, something we have been working very hard on is building a political consensus and a shared understanding across the political spectrum of the crucial value of the independent sector in both delivering and supplementing NHS services – recognising the  additionality and expertise in the private sector. 

This will, of course, entail engaging with the new Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, and her new ministerial team to build on the solid foundations already in place.

In that vein, from across the aisle, it was very good to hear more positive comments of the Shadow Health Minister, Wes Streeting, following a speech he gave to the NHS Providers conference, where he elaborated on how he wants to ensure GPs have a stronger obligation to offer patients choice of provider at the point of referral.

This year’s Independent Healthcare Providers Network summit was held at the Royal Society of Arts House in John Adam Street, near the Strand, London

New research

The summit also gave us an opportunity to highlight new research which showed how businesses are turning to medical insurance and occupational health support to help keep staff healthy and attract new talent.

New polling, undertaken by Savanta on our behalf, found that a quarter (25%) of all businesses now offer private medical insurance for their employees, with a further 20% planning to introduce it in the next year.  

Further, nearly a fifth (18%) of employers are planning on introducing occupational health services over the next 12 months, as they take action to counteract concerns at lengthening NHS waiting lists having a significant impact on the health of their staff.  

The trends are particularly evident in medium and large businesses, where almost two-thirds (64%) said they were concerned about the risk of long waits and, here, nearly a third (32%) were considering private medical insurance in the next year, with 35% intending to bring in occupational health.   

Over a quarter (27%) of all businesses – increasing to over a third (35%) of those employing in excess of 1,000 people – say that sickness absence rates have increased in their organisation over the last 12 months. 

Recent Office of National Stat­istics data showed that more than 2.6m people now do not have jobs because of their ill health.  

The majority of businesses (52%) also say they are concerned that the current NHS waiting times may increase sickness absence rates at their organisation – a figure that rises to six-in-ten businesses with more than 1,000 employees. 

Speakers at the ‘politics of health’ session included Sean Phillips, head of health and social care at the Policy Exchange, and Tom Hamilton, head of social policy at Public First, and Danielle Henry, assistant director of policy and programmes at IHPN

The Financial Conduct Auth­ority’s Financial Lives Survey showed there are now 6.9m people in the UK who have private medical insurance. More than three-quarters of these policies (76%) are provided as a workplace benefit. In the last five years, the total number of people covered by private medical insurance has risen by one million.  

We think the findings show that businesses are being proactive in ensuring the well-being of their workforce.  

And we know from our research that pressures on the health service are a real concern for businesses – they are having an impact on staff absence rates and productivity. 

So it’s no surprise to see that a growing number of businesses are looking at putting in place additional support to improve the health and well-being of their staff.  

The provision of private medical insurance and occupational health services are becoming an important factor for job candidates making decisions about where they work. 

Our recent study, Going Private, found that half of all people would be more likely to apply for a job if private medical insurance was part of the overall package, and it’s particularly attractive to younger people. Over two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds said they’d be more likely to apply for a job if private medical insurance was included as a benefit.

Thank you to legal services firm Bevan Brittan for its continued support. It has been our partner for nine years in a row. 

I also want to thank the team at IHPN who put the event on. There’s a massive amount of work behind the scenes to run an event like the summit and they did an outstanding job.  

David Hare is chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN)