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A press release from Your Legal Friend, a UK personal injury and negligence firm arrived in my inbox this week. It was headlined: "Patients turn to NHS to solve private medical blunders".

The company commissioned an online survey of 400 doctors and 1,300 consumers to examine the perceptions of private versus NHS treatment. The conclusions must be taken with a pinch (or sack) of salt, given the purposes of such surveys are to promote the company that sponsored it. But they do highlight a bigger question... Will you get better treatment in the private healthcare sector?

Here's what they concluded from their survey:

  • More than half (58%) of medical professionals have treated patients whose private treatment has resulted in a poor outcome.
  • Almost half (49%) of medical professionals do not believe that patients receive better care in private facilities
  • Over three quarters (79%) of the general public said they would prefer the NHS for emergency treatment

Let's examine each of those points in turn.

More than half (58%) of medical professionals....

...have treated patients whose private treatment has resulted in a poor outcome.

Well, if you think about it, that's not a surprise. Whether you go private or NHS, there's a risk of a poor outcome. It happens. If we assume that the likelihood of a poor outcome is the same whether you are in the private or NHS sector, then any medical professional is likely to have treated patients whose private treatment has resulted in a poor outcome

Almost half (49%) of medical professionals...

...do not believe that patients receive better care in private facilities.

Again, is this a surprise? So half of the medical profession believe that you get better care going private and half believe you get better care in the NHS. But what do they mean by "care". Are they talking about better outcomes? Are they talking about better nurse/patient ratios? Are they talking about more time with the doctor? Are they talking about better doctors?

Over three quarters (79%) of the general public...

...said they would prefer the NHS for emergency treatment.

I'm surprised it's that low! What the private sector doesn't do is emergency treatment. A and E departments don't exist in the private sector. Some hospitals in major cities operate an Urgent Care Centre, such as the one at the Princess Grace Hospital in London and Casualty First at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London.

Will you get better treatment in the private healthcare sector?

One of the strengths of our NHS is that it is the most transparent healthcare systems in the world. The Department of Health and healthcare bodies across the UK collect masses of data about what goes on the NHS. Much of this is published online nowadays and is freely available to the public and to the patient who wants to gather information about an NHS hospital or a consultant from sites such as NHS Choices. Someone considering a hip or knee replacement can access the National Joint Registry (NJR) and find information about an orthopaedic surgeon's  practice including how many hip, knee, ankle, elbow or shoulder procedures they have carried out since 2011.

The private sector has been slow to follow the NHS lead. But times are changing. The private sector is becoming much more transparent in terms of pricing, activity and outcomes. The kind of pricing and activity information that is now published on Private Healthcare UK, and is available through organisations such as the Private Healthcare Information Network is just the beginning.

So, will you get better treatment in the private healthcare sector? At the moment, there's no hard and fast answer. You'll get easier and quicker access to healthcare, you'll be in a more private and more comfortable  environment, and you'll get to choose who wields the knife. But will the outcome be better? We don't know.... yet!

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About the author

Keith Pollard is Executive chairman of LaingBuisson International Limited, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK and HarleyStreet.com. LaingBuisson International Limited is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View www.keithpollard.com for my full profile.


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