Private healthcare saw “record” levels of demand in the first quarter of the year, as firms look to guarantee healthcare for their employees – and stand out in the war for talent – amid crisis in the NHS.
Around 227,000 admissions were paid for using private medical insurance (PMI) in the first quarter of this year, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network, breaking the previous record of 219,000 set in the last quarter of 2022.
The expansion came mainly from insured plans, around 80 per cent of which are company-paid. Insured treatments climbed to 156,000 in the quarter, up from 149,000 at the end of last year.
Brett Hill, head of health and protection at consultancy firm Broadstone said firms were increasingly realising that protecting the health of their employees is “a mission-critical business investment”.
Lengthening waiting lists and acrimonious pay disputes were responsible for pushing firms to seek private insurance for their employees, Hill said.
The NHS has faced months of crisis with figures from August showing that 7.6m people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment, the highest number since records began in 2007.
Strike action has been partly responsible for the increase. At least 885,000 hospital appointments have been postponed since industrial action began in December last year, with the figure nearing 1m when mental health appointments were included.
But the trend of firms offering private medical insurance dates back before Covid. According to data from healthcare intelligence firm LangBuisson, the number of company-paid enrollees in PMI increased to 3.4m in 2021, up from just below 3m in 2011.
“PMI has often been used as a tool to attract high-calibre talent in a competitive labour market, with the overall benefit package seen as a factor in decision-making by prospective employees,” Tim Read, director of research at LangBuisson said.
“Ongoing NHS pressures could lead to individuals making more use of the insurance benefits available to them,” Read continued.
The rise of private healthcare highlights wider concerns for the UK labour market, which has failed to recover from the impact of Covid. Data out this morning showed that inactivity due to long-term sickness increased to another record high.
Last week the government announced a crackdown on people claiming sickness benefits in an attempt to get people back into work, although the policy will only take affect after the next election.
Charles Cotton, senior policy adviser for performance and reward at the CIPD, said: “It’s not too surprising that many people are turning to private medicine, given the challenges currently facing the NHS in both England and Scotland.
“Because of this, organisations are reporting increased interest from potential or existing staff about the wellbeing benefits on offer, such as digital GP services, group medical insurance, physiotherapy, occupational sick pay, or health cash plans. Offering such benefits at this time will help employers stand out in the labour market,” he added.