The UK’s “new normal” in healthcare…

“Private pay” to the (partial) rescue.

Recently, a friend’s family member — a UK citizen, living in London — needed open heart surgery.

Rather than waiting in the months (or years) long National Health Service queue, he understandably opted to “private pay” for surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in London.

As the Cleveland Clinic – London promotes on it’s web site:

Some medical issues just can’t wait, especially when they’re affecting your quality of life.

At Cleveland Clinic London, you have the freedom to self-pay or pay through private medical insurance or a sponsorship.

This gives you access to prompt care when you need it the most.

With that case top-of-mind, a WSJ Editorial caught my eye: Britain’s National Health Service Meltdown.

Here’s an excerpt from the editorial…


The Situation:

The UK is in the midst of another winter of healthcare misery.

The National Health Service’s winter crisis has become an annual tradition, but this year’s troubles for the free-at-point-of-service system are significantly worse.

The “new normal” winter wave of flu, Covid and other respiratory ailments is swamping hospitals and doctors’ offices already coping with a backlog of patients awaiting tests and treatments deferred by Covid lockdowns.

Waiting times for ambulances for the most serious calls are getting longer, with the average response time — targeted at 7 minutes — reaching over 10 minutes.

Once patients reach the emergency room, 35% now face waits above four hours between a decision to admit and transfer to an appropriate bed for treatment, the worst performance since 2010.

Some 7.2 million non-emergency patients are waiting prescribed treatment to start.

Of those, over 40% (2.9 million) have been waiting more than 18 weeks.

The NHS considers itself a success if it starts treatment within that four-month window.

By some estimates, NHS delays may be contributing to the 1,000 weekly excess deaths in recent weeks —deaths above the normal average level.


The (partial) remedy

One sign of the severity of this year’s crisis is the rise of private and semi-private healthcare.

An increasing number of Britons who can afford it buy private health insurance, which generally requires them to use the NHS for routine matters but lets them skip queues for specialist care, physical therapy and the like.

Some NHS hospitals are even offering patients the option to pay out-of-pocket for diagnostics or treatments to skip NHS queues.

Some NHS hospitals with record waiting lists are promoting “quick and easy” private healthcare services at their own hospitals, offering patients the chance to jump year-long queues … for an additional private pay fee.

For example, the Guardian cites the case of a woman who was told that she’d have to wait two years for surgery via the NHS or can see the same surgeon in the same hospital and be treated in two weeks for £1,200.

Hospitals are offering hip replacements from £10,000, cataract surgery for £2,200 and hernia repairs for £2,500. MRI scans are offered for between £300 and £400.

One lady who paid £350 for an MRI scan reported that “There were posters on the walls stating times for the return of results: three days for private, three weeks for NHS.”


The WSJ’s conclusion

“The U.S. suffers a chronic problem of healthcare financing but not of health-care delivery.

Britain shows that with single-payer you end up with both.”

I agree with the latter conclusion, but based on some recent experiences, I’m not so sure that I agree with the latter.

These days, almost everybody I know (myself included) is  now or has recently been sick.

And, with only a few exceptions, most have been frustrated by the long leads required to see their primary care doctor … or, god forbid, specialists.


More to come on that subject…

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