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There couldn't be a better time to promote self-pay

The latest analysis from the BBC suggests that there couldn't be a better time for private hospitals to promote their various self-pay offerings to UK patients.

The BBC has launched a special week of coverage about the state of the NHS. It will highlight the current underfunding, increasing demand and the resulting pressure on A and E departments and elective surgery.

If you want to understand why the NHS is under pressure, then this excellent analysis by the King's Fund: How hospital activity in the NHS in England has changed over time is worth a read. Despite what the government tells us about increases in NHS funding, the government is simply not spending enough to keep pace with demand. Across the period 2003/4 to 2015/16, the average annual increase in hospital admissions was 3.6 per cent, while funding increased by an average of 3.1 per cent per year. Elective admissions to hospitals went from 810,000 admissions in Q1 2003/4 to 1.5 million in Q1 2016/17. I'd be interested to know what the increase in elective admissions to private hospitals was over the same period of time.

The King's Fund believes that the number of patients waiting for operations in England will soon top four million - for the first time in nearly a decade.

  • NHS England data reveals that the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for non-urgent surgery has more than doubled in the four years to November 2016. There are 3.7 million people in total on the waiting list, a 44% increase since 2012.
  • In Northern Ireland, the numbers are up by 95%.
  • In, Scotland by 82%.
  • And in Wales by 74%.

Do people know about self-pay?

New research conducted independently on behalf of BMI Healthcare and surveying 1,191 respondents reports that waiting times are the biggest healthcare concern for almost half of the British public (46%). But over half (53%) have never heard of or do not understand the idea of self-pay. The public are also not aware of the list of conditions no longer available on the NHS. Almost two thirds (65%) of people in Britain are not aware that some medical procedures are no longer available to them on the NHS, including common procedures such as hip replacements and knee arthroscopy. Over half (52%) are either not aware or not sure about needing to meet strict criteria before being eligible for certain operations on the NHS, including treatment for varicose veins and hernias, and sight-saving surgery for cataracts.

"Speculate to accumulate" for a boom in self-pay

In recent years, self-pay has been one of the bright spots in a depressed private healthcare market in the UK, and has helped to offset the absence of growth in insured patient numbers. But, given the state of NHS funding and the growing waiting lists, has the private sector made the most of the opportunity to promote self-pay?

The BMI research highlights one of the issues  - "over half (53%) have never heard of or do not understand the idea of self-pay". It's a reflection of the lack of marketing investment in the private sector. Private hospital marketing budgets, whether at individual hospital level or at national level, have always been underfunded (IMHO as a professional marketer!). Promotion of the self-pay option is rarely seen in national, regional or local media. The classic marketing model  - AIDA - starts with  Awareness, which leads to.... Interest, Desire and Action. If patients are not aware of what you have to offer, few are actually going to buy it.

Perhaps now, when the NHS is underfunding elective surgery, it's time for the private hospitals to "speculate to accumulate". There couldn't be a better time.

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There couldn't be a better time to promote self-pay

About the author

Keith Pollard is CEO of Intuition Communication, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK, the Harley Street Guide, HarleyStreet.com and Surgery Door. Intuition 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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