Privatisation Gathers Pace

Published by West Cornwall HealthWatch

5th July 2022




The number of patients seeking private treatment continues to rise, as dissatisfaction with the service provided by the NHS also rises:

 Consulting a private GP has risen from 4% to 7% of the population.  The number of GPs moving to private practice is also rising – from nearly 2% of GPs currently (that equates to 1200 GPs working privately online), but with a further 47% considering going private.  Many patients say difficulty making an appointment has pushed them to private GP services. The move away from in-person appointments has proved a particular bone of contention.  Clinic manager at SameDayDoctor which treats more than 30,000 patients a year, said most were “people who go private because they cannot see an NHS doctor at all or get a face-to-face appointment”, with the backlog leaving people with “nowhere else to go”. “Some haven’t seen a doctor for a couple of years. We see everyone face to face,” she said.  Providers of independent GP services report significant increases in demand. Spire healthcare said there were almost 23,000 appointments with its GPs, almost twice as many as in 2020. Others reported increases of between 30 and 76 per cent in recent months. Last year the British Social Attitudes Survey found satisfaction with NHS GP services was just 38 per cent, a 30 percentage point decrease on 2019 and the lowest level of satisfaction recorded for GP services since the survey began in 1983.  (Statistics from The Times, April 28th 2022)

 It’s not just private GP services which are rising in number – operations and procedures in hospital are seriously jeopardized.  Those patients waiting for surgery, particularly hip or knee replacements which typically have a wait of two years and this is growing, and but many others are waiting for months or years for heart treatments and other seriously debilitating conditions.  The number across the UK is around six million people.  This means that those who can afford it, and those who barely can, are opting for private treatment rather than suffer for such a long time.  We have come across many local people, committed to the NHS, who have reluctantly opted for private treatment because the wait has become intolerable. 

Other services, previously NHS available on the NHS, such as dentistry and earwax removal, are increasingly being delivered by private providers, at the patient’s expense.

 We have to ask ourselves, as this trend gathers pace, what will be left in the NHS in a few years’ time.  Whoever sets up such services, especially if leaving the NHS out of disillusion, contributes to the passive growth of the private sector. That further undermines the already low morale of the professions (not just doctors) because it shows them something potentially better … for them. And it means people who can barely afford it are seeking to go private.  And it privileges the better-off, which is the antithesis of the reason why the NHS was founded. Private medicine should be the domain of the self-indulgent, not a substitute for adequately universal, readily accessed, good quality NHS provision for all.  And there’s the rub: good quality - not best (it never was, despite the rhetoric), but good enough. For years, it’s been declining; it’s no longer anywhere near ‘good enough’. In recent years we fear the decline may have become terminal.

 Is this what we want?  If it isn’t, what can we do to reverse the almost inevitable outcome?  With this going on under our noses, there should be an outcry and a concerted campaign to ‘Save our NHS’.  Without sustained public pressure and a profound change in government policy, we will be back in the 1930s before we know it, and Aneurin Bevin’s NHS will be lost.