The UK’s Private Healthcare Market Is Bigger Than Ever

Last year saw the highest private in-patient admissions since records began, totaling roughly 900,000, a 7% increase from 2022.

(Photo by Christopher Bill on Unsplash)

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We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

Unfortunately for many UK citizens, that line sums up their relationship with the country’s nationalized healthcare system. With National Health Service backlogs at record levels, Brits are turning to private healthcare in record numbers, according to a report released by Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), an NGO that monitors the UK’s private healthcare sector. It’s an uncomfortable figure for the UK government, just four weeks before a general election.

The Doctor Will See You in 18 Weeks 

The NHS was founded in 1948 and has long been a national point of pride. It is, however, struggling. Its target is to get 92% of patients starting treatment within 18 weeks of first going to the NHS. But 43% of the 7.5 million people waiting for treatments have been on that list for 18 weeks or more.

Unsurprisingly, British patients are forking over cash to circumvent these backlogs, and they’re doing it in droves:

  • According to PHIN 2023 saw the highest number of private in-patient admissions since records began in 2016, totaling roughly 900,000, a 7% increase from 2022.
  • Some people are using private health insurance (those admissions saw a 7% rise from 2019) while some are paying out of pocket. Such “self-pay admissions,” when people pay without insurance, are 39% more common now than before the pandemic.

This is not a good look for the conservative government, which has got into multiple scrapes with NHS staff striking. Nurses, junior doctors, and senior doctors have gone on strike over the course of the current administration.

Living Rent-Free in Voters’ Heads: Another area of UK life that is increasingly corporatizing is the rental market. The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that private equity giant Blackstone has struck a deal to buy 1,750 homes for rent to the tune of £580 million ($740 million). The FT notes that the UK rental market is largely dominated by small, private landlords. That market is also pretty top of mind for voters — the current government did have a bill ready to push through bolstering renters’ rights, but sadly that got binned after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the election, meaning all pending legislation got tabled.