Millions turning to private healthcare forced into financial worry

New figures reveal nearly half of Brits who are turning to private healthcare are cutting back, using savings or getting into debt to pay for it

  • One in ten adults are going private – most due to issues with NHS waiting times and treatment
  • Ten point drop in people saying the NHS makes them proud to be British over the last year, as millions suffer issues with postponed and cancelled appointments  
  • For the first time in the UK, charity Engage Britain brings together public and frontline workers to create ‘people-led’ policies based on ordinary Brits’ experiences 

New research today reveals almost half (46%) of people using private healthcare are being forced to cut back on spending, use their savings, or get into debt to pay for it. 

Charity Engage Britain and Yonder carried out a survey of over 2,000 adults in the UK which shows one in ten (10%) people are currently turning to private care.

Of those, almost two thirds (63%) are doing so because of problems with NHS waiting times or access to treatment. And half of people going private (49%) say they prefer to use the NHS where they can. 

Meanwhile, the number of people saying the NHS makes them feel ‘proud to be British’ has dropped by ten percentage points over the last year from 77% to 67%. 

Some of patients’ biggest complaints are about communication breakdowns and disruption, with almost half (47%) of NHS patients experiencing these problems.

The most common concern is cancelled or postponed appointments (28%), while millions of others say they are not kept updated, have problems with referrals or see mistakes in letters and emails. 

For the very first time, Engage Britain is bringing together the public and frontline workers to take charge of improving problems in the NHS.

Ordinary Brits are working together to create new ‘people-led’ policies based on their first-hand experiences of the health system. 

Case study: Leanne, 59, from Kent works as a senior occupational therapist and is taking part in Engage Britain’s drive to create people-led heath policies. Leanne injured her knee while she was learning to dance, and after finding out how long it would take to get surgery on the NHS she sold her motorbike and took out a loan to pay for a private operation. 

Leanne says: She says: “I know what the NHS is going through. Waiting for eight weeks might become 12 weeks or more. Living on my own I didn’t have anyone to help me and relying on friends just didn’t feel right.  

“It did frighten me how much it was – I’ve not been in debt, I’ve been very fortunate. So I was concerned by that, but it made sense to do it on credit not to deplete my savings. I felt my job was secure and this meant I could take out the loan. I just felt lucky I was in the position where I could choose when others can’t. 

“There’s always a perception if you haven’t needed the NHS – more than the odd prescription – that it would be there in your hour of need. But of course that wasn’t the case for me then, and it’s certainly not the case now. The NHS is amazing and it’s doing far more than it was set up to do. But the current crisis has shown us there need to be some changes in its delivery and our expectations of it.” 

Engage Britain’s health and care programme director Miriam Levin said: “While the NHS still unites many of us with a feeling of pride, it’s clear more and more people are being let down by health services and feel forced to turn to private treatment  

“As people suffer through months of pain and discomfort after postponed appointments, or waste time and energy chasing up referrals, millions are feeling desperate enough to use savings or get into debt to help us get well again. 

“Only the people who live through these daily frustrations can tell us how things really need to change. The government needs a fresh approach to making our NHS fit for purpose – by listening to what patients and staff have to say, then putting their experience at the heart of delivering services.” 

Anyone who wants help create people-led policies for the NHS and social care can join Engage Britain’s health and care community to feed in their ideas, knowledge and personal experiences. 

ENDS 

Notes to editors 

Case studies and spokespeople available on request  

Media contact:Freya Barnes, Head of Media and Campaigns: 0203 953 6329 / media@engagebritain.org 

Methodology  

  • Survey commissioned by Engage Britain and conducted by Yonder to explore the public’s experiences of and reasons for using private healthcare. It was a nationally representative survey of 2,075 adults. Online fieldwork was undertaken 22 – 24 July 2022. Data weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade, and ethnicity. 
  • 10% of those surveyed responded “Yes”, when asked ‘Have you had private healthcare in the last 12 months?’. 
  • Of those who have used private healthcare in the last 12 months, when asked ‘How did having to pay for private healthcare impact you financially?’ 46% selected at least one of the following: “I had to go into debt”, “I had to cut back on my spending” or “I had to use savings that I was keeping for another purpose”. 
  • 67% of those surveyed responded “Strongly agree” or “Tend to agree” when asked “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The NHS makes me feel proud to be British””. 32% selected ‘Strongly agree’, 35% selected ‘Tend to agree’, 20% selected ‘neither agree nor disagree’, 6% selected ‘Tend to disagree’, 5% selected ‘Strongly disagree’ and 3% selected ‘Don’t know’.  
  • The same question was asked in a survey commissioned by Engage Britain in July 2021 and conducted by Yonder. It was a nationally representative survey of 4,010 adults. Online fieldwork was undertaken 5 – 8 July 2021. Data weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade, and ethnicity. 77% of those surveyed responded ‘Strongly agree’ or ‘Tend to agree’. 
  • Of those who have used private healthcare in the last 12 months, when asked “Which of the following best describes the reason why you had private healthcare?”, 45% responded “Because of the waiting time for NHS treatment”, 18% responded “Because the treatment you needed was not available on the NHS”, with 63% selecting one of these two options. 18% responded “Because you always prefer to go private” and 19% responded “Other”.  
  • Of those who have used private healthcare in the last 12 months, when asked ‘Which of the following best describes your view?’, 49%  selected “Where I can, I prefer to use the NHS”, 29% selected “Where I can, I prefer to use private healthcare”, 18% selected “I don’t mind whether I use private healthcare or the NHS”, 2% selected “Prefer not to say”, and 2% selected “Don’t know” 
  • Of those who have used NHS healthcare in the last 12 months, when asked ‘Which of the following have you experienced when seeking NHS treatment in the last 12 months?’, 28% selected “I have had an appointment cancelled or postponed”, 18% selected “I have not been notified about something important relating to my treatment”, 12% selected “I have not been kept properly updated whilst waiting for treatment”, 12% selected “I have had a problem with a referral”, 11% selected “There’s been a mistake in a communication (letter, text, email etc.) I’ve received relating to my treatment”. 47% select at least one of these options. 

To view the polling tables, click here.