The third edition of LaingBuisson’s Private Healthcare Self-Pay UK Market report has been launched today. It shows a market where, despite wider macro-economic uncertainty, there remains real and evidenced growth.

There are concerns that as a result of economic uncertainty created by Brexit and also the Covid-19 pandemic, the market for self-pay private healthcare may suffer. However, there is clear evidence that while self-funded medical care amounts to discretionary spending, for many, treatment remains affordable and accessible.

The pandemic has, in some ways, provided a boost to the sector. The suspension of all but very urgent NHS elective treatment coupled with higher wait times has led to a surge in enquires for self-pay treatment with private consultants, clinics and hospitals. For now, continuing restrictions mean demand is hard to satisfy. However, the main demographic for self-pay is the over 55s and with little opportunity to spend on leisure, holidays, eating out and similar, might they spend more on health and wellbeing in the short term?

Other factors point to ongoing growth in the self-pay market. There is rising interest in areas such as orthopaedics, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, gynaecology, and urology, though challenge lies in converting interest to business. There is a growth in specialty specific services, including vein clinics, imaging clinics, ophthalmology providers and day surgery only clinics, some of which out-compete full service hospitals on cost. In addition, finance options are growing in popularity, enabling patients to spread the cost of treatment.

Covid-19 has also led to the rapid digitisation of services across all sectors of healthcare. In particular, online consultations are now the norm and have event enabled access to services such as physiotherapy support. Online private GP services were already growing in popularity before the pandemic. There is no reason to believe this popularity will decline, especially as most people are now confident with operating video conferencing technology in a way that they were not only 12 months ago.

Report author, Liz Heath said:

“Self-pay continues to show real and evidenced growth. While there are indications of an increased interest in private medical insurance, both from companies and individuals, in the wake of the pandemic, growth from insured patients is expected to remain static or slow for the foreseeable future. Conversely, confidence in self-pay is high, with 52% of those surveyed expecting that this market will grow by 10-15% over the next three years (up from 45% in 2019) and no-one thinking the market will decrease.

“We will of course have to wait to see how the market normalises after the pandemic and its related restrictions lift. While the NHS has faced challenges in restarting elective treatment, self-pay is looking attractive even if currently wait times are longer than usual and we may anticipate that even once the NHS fully resumes elective treatment, the private healthcare wait times will also reduce. The question is whether many people, having discovered that paying directly for medical care is an option, continue to call on it, whether for a virtual private GP appointment or for more complex surgery.”