A Private Choice: the changing face of the UK health market

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We are delighted to launch GK and onefourzero’s latest whitepaper on the evolving health market, you can read the full report here: A Private Choice: the changing face of the UK health market

Rising demand for private healthcare driven by easy access and consumer choice

  • Increased demand for private healthcare is being driven by consumer preferences as patients want ease of access, convenience and more choice in treatments
  • Data suggests that shifting demographics and austerity have had little impact on patient’s preferences for healthcare provision, with them choosing to self-pay rather than having to  out of necessity
  • Trends suggest patients will increasingly demand a mixture of NHS and private services in the future

Increasing demand for private healthcare services in the UK is being driven by consumer preferences with austerity having a minor impact, according to a report published today by GK, a Westminster-based political risk and reputation consultancy. Evidence suggests consumers are seeking out private services for cancer treatment, IVF treatment and hip & knee operations at a growing rate.

Using Google searches for private services as a proxy for demand, onefourzero and GK Strategy found that consumer demand for private healthcare has nearly doubled since 2013, growing by 24% between years 2016-2017 alone. Assessing demand data found cancer patients are more likely to go private to receive experimental treatments, while those looking for IVF treatment prefer the convenience offered by the private-pay market. Similarly, despite there being no drop in overall patient outcomes in NHS services, patients undergoing elective hip and knee surgeries cited improved ease of access, immediacy and perceived quality as the main reasons for switching.

As these trends are set to continue, there is an increasing likelihood of mixing NHS and private services for patients during the same course of treatment. Evidence for this comes from a range of different services:

Cancer Patients

  • 32% of private-pay patients choose to do so due to availability of different drugs/treatments
  • Google searches for private cancer treatment have increased by 63% since 2013 from 197,000 to 321,400
  • This is despite increases in NHS funding for cancer which has benefited from the 7% growth rate in budgets for specialised clinical commissioning and waiting times for both referral and treatment remaining stable

IVF Patients

  • 39% of patients discussing choosing private provision online refer to the improved availability of treatment in the private-pay market
  • This is despite just 6 CCGs across the whole of the UK being unable to offer an IVF service of any kind
  • However, rationing and restrictions are increasing, meaning private healthcare is becoming more of an attractive option

Hip & Knee Replacements

  • The number of NHS procedures has remained relatively stable over the last few years, around the 71,000 mark
  • One key issue stated by patients considering going private was the lack of availability of NHS treatment due to high demand for services, with 40% of patients going private mentioning that it played a role in their decision making
  • 42% focused on to the ease of access and convenience that the private-pay market provided

Overall the report suggests that patients are becoming more like consumers in their preferences, attaching value to accessibility, convenience and choice.

Commenting Justin Ash, Chairman of GK Strategy and former CEO of Oasis Dental and Lloyds Pharmacies, said:

“GK and onefourzero are able to read the digital voice of consumers and has found a growing desire for access to private care.  This challenges providers in the sector to develop high-quality private pay offers to meet these consumer needs. ”

Commenting Emily Wallace, CEO at GK Strategy, said:

“It’s clear from our research that patients are increasingly opting to pay for services privately and that they are primarily attracted by the ease of access and availability of treatment on offer. As financial constraint and pressures in the NHS continue to grow, we anticipate that private pay is likely to be a growing part of our health economy.

People increasingly see paying for healthcare as a way of catering to their own preferences – prioritising convenience over other factors. Convenience remains the main key differentiating factor as the NHS continues to deliver high-quality patient outcomes despite severe financial stringencies.” 

Commenting Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero, said:

“We are beginning to see similar trends within the part-privatised sector as we are within the consumer sector.  Patients might be more accurately thought of as consumers given their demand for immediacy in everything from booking to advice to faultless service.

Patient-consumers are more willing to pay for private treatment in order to meet their high demands.  This is evidenced in their behaviour and sentiment, which we have tracked online.  The question then becomes whether or not the private health sector can sustain this demand along with the efficiencies, without having to pass on too much of the cost to patients, which could then stimulate a reverse effect.”

*Note that this is for private-pay rather than a private provider delivering free at the point of need services alongside the NHS.