About half a million people have taken private health insurance over the past year, The Telegraph can reveal, with the NHS increasingly struggling to provide basic care for patients in the wake of Covid-19.
Bupa, Aviva and Vitality, three of the UK’s biggest insurers, have collectively added 480,000 new customers since the start of 2022, according to data shared by the companies with The Telegraph.
long waiting lists and “uncertainty about when procedures will take place would certainly seem to be influencing people’s decision to plan for private care,” said the Private Health Information Network, which tracks the sector’s performance.
NHS puts pressure on a ‘major driver’
Aviva also said that “concerns regarding pressures on the NHS post Covid-19 are definitely a major factor” behind the increase in new customers.
The NHS has faced increasing strain in the last 12 months, with hospitals and health services on the brink of record waiting lists, staff and bed shortages, and simultaneous waves of respiratory infections.
Britain’s underfunded social care sector is also struggling to cope with increased demand nationwide making it difficult for hospitals to discharge patients back into the community for continued care.
This crisis has come to a head in recent weeks; the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimates that between 300 and 500 people a week now die as a result of delays in emergency care.
The latest figures show that nearly 2,500 more people died than expected in the week to December 23, the highest number of excess deaths since February 2021, which was the deadliest period of the pandemic.
Turning your back on the NHS
In this context, hundreds of thousands of patients have turned their backs on the NHS in favor of private healthcare.
Aviva said it covered 100,000 new clients with private health insurance between December 2021 and December 2022, bringing its national tally to 1.1 million.
“We have noticed that many people are considering private health insurance for the first time, including significant interest from younger age groups who traditionally would not have seen private health insurance as a priority,” added a spokesperson for the insurer.
“We’re also seeing better retention rates as individuals and employers prioritize keeping valuable health care coverage.”
Between December 2021 and June 2022, Bupa also added 100,000 new customers, bringing its total to 2.4 million.
A spokesman said the “general trends” seen in the first half of last year “continued through 2022”, suggesting the insurer covered another 100,000 people with private health insurance over the past six months.
And Vitality told The Telegraph that “more than 900,000 people are now covered by Vitality health insurance, which is an increase of around 20 per cent on last year”, equivalent to 180,000.
“We continue to see strong demand for health insurance,” a company spokesperson said.
While some of the new clients will have been awarded insurance as part of a benefits package at a new job, many are individuals who have purchased policies independently.
Not everyone has welcomed the role of the private sector in caring for patients amid the unfolding crisis in the NHS.
A chief executive of a major London trust told The Telegraph that “any increase in private activity reduces the capacity of the NHS” as “the vast majority of doctors in private clinics/hospitals also work” in the NHS.
“Similarly, nurses,” she said, “although most of them work solely in the private sector.
“In a time of abundance, I am reasonably agnostic, but currently very hostile to private health care.”