Anna Hodgekiss dramatizes for the Mail with the headline: Scandal of private health sharks overcharging their patients by up to £12,000 but it is evident that, as the safety net fails more frequently, that those who have the means will use them to get better treatment. Speed (avoiding waiting lists) and choice (consultant not junior) and fewer complications (less infections in private hospitals) mean we are morphing to a two tier system. Differences in outcomes between those with means and those without could well lead to civil unrest. Exactly what Aneurin wanted to avoid. Bringing back fear?
Patients who pay for private surgery are falling victim to massive price variations of up to £12,000 for the same procedure.
A report by medical industry experts shows that depending on the provider and location, the quoted price of a total hip replacement ranges from £8,945 to £14,880, while a commonly performed varicose vein procedure can cost anything from £1,995 to £4,340.
However, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found that patients are often being charged several times this amount, with one woman quoted £15,000 for a vein operation.
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A Mail on Sunday investigation has found dramatic differences in the costs of private health treatment with a £1,500 difference in the bill for a simple back operation
There can even be a near £1,500 difference in the cost of simple back pain injections, and the bill for cataract surgery can almost double from one place to another.
The figures relate to the amounts that self-pay patients – rather than those having procedures covered by private insurance – are having to fork out for treatment
An increasing number of desperate Britons are being forced to self-pay as NHS rationing cuts deeper and waiting lists grow ever longer. More than four million people are currently waiting for NHS surgery – the highest figure since 2007 – according to NHS England.
And in October it was revealed that patients in Northern Ireland are waiting up to three years for an initial consultation about having surgery, following a GP referral.
The report, published by Private Healthcare UK, predicts that the self-pay market will surge over the next five years.
The Mail on Sunday also reported last month that record numbers of Britons are shelling out up to £15,000 for vital operations after being told they must wait for months by NHS hospitals.
In total, patients are forking out £623 million a year for self-pay treatment. They are cashing in ISAs or pensions, taking out loans and even ‘maxing out’ credit cards to fund treatment they should have had sooner on the NHS.
Experts are urging private patients to shop around after the report – which gathers data that providers are now obliged to publish – found alarming differences in prices. For example, the bill for an injection of local anaesthetic and steroids for back pain ranges from £950 to £2,370, while a knee replacement can cost anything from £8,750 to £15,410. Meanwhile, the quoted guide price of cataract surgery for one eye varies across the UK from £1,850 to £3,350.
The report highlights that the cheapest providers are specialist centres – day surgery centres for procedures such as steroid injections, veins and optical surgery – as opposed to private hospitals offering a range of services.
Some providers, including Spire and Nuffield Health, have prices that vary so much that they are often listed as both the cheapest and most expensive option, depending on the location of their centre.
For example, the highest bill for cataract surgery is found at Nuffield’s hospital in Exeter, where the procedure costs £3,350 for one eye. Yet the cheapest provider in the South East is the company’s Chichester hospital, where the same operation costs £2,090.
Keith Pollard, chief executive of Private Healthcare UK, said the figures emphasised the need for stringent research before committing to any hospital or clinic. ‘There has always been a wide variation in pricing,’ he explained. ‘But companies are now being ordered by the Government to publish their prices on their websites.’
When asked about the huge disparity in pricing, Nuffield Health said: ‘Our prices vary according to surgeon and anaesthetist fees and local market conditions.’ Spire Healthcare refused to comment.
Mr Ian Eardley, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said many desperate patients who did not fit the criteria for NHS treatment were now opting to go private if they could afford it. ‘There are some elective procedures, such as hip and knee replacements, where patients are being denied access due to local NHS policy. They may be told to go away and lose some weight before they are eligible,’ he said.
‘With procedures such as varicose veins, cosmetic appearance is no longer enough to get surgery. You must be at risk of developing other symptoms, such as painful ulcers, in order to be considered eligible on the NHS.’
Six things every self-payer needs to know
1 Mr Ian Eardley, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, says: ‘Ask a potential surgeon how frequently they operate and what their results are.’ Details of how many procedures a surgeon has done and what their results are can be found on the NHS Choices website.
2 ‘If you are offered a new procedure, approach it with caution,’ urges Mr Eardley. ‘Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion or ask to speak to other patients who have had it.’
3 If you are going to be in hospital for a few days, stay in one with low infection rates. ‘Every hospital will have been assessed by the Care Quality Commission and you can read the report on the CQC website,’ says Mr Eardley.
4 Lower prices don’t always mean lower quality: clinics that specialise in a limited number of procedures can offer savings.
5 Check the Private Healthcare Information Network (phin.org.uk), which compiles information such as hospital performance, patient satisfaction and CQC rating.
6 Ask about hidden extras. What happens if something goes wrong? Is follow-up care covered? Make sure you and the surgeon are on the same page in terms of what you consider a successful outcome. For example, improvement in variables such as pain, movement and quality of life.