Restrictions on treatments available on the NHS, such as IVF and hip surgery, mean the majority of GPs are now more likely to refer patients to the private sector, according to a nationwide survey of doctors.
A ComRes poll of 1,000 GPs, sponsored by General Healthcare Group (GHG), whose primary business is BMI Healthcare, the UK’s largest independent provider of private healthcare, showed that more than half (53 per cent) were now more likely to channel patients to the private sector for “low priority” operations due to pressures on NHS budgets and capacity. These operations include removal of varicose veins, cataracts operations, fertility treatment and knee surgery.
The remaining 43 per cent of GPs said that despite treatment de-prioritisation, there would be no change in their private referral patterns and only 4 per cent said they were less likely to refer to providers outside the NHS.
The NHS is facing a transformational period which will see the responsibility of commissioning and healthcare budgets handed to GPs, with £20billion of savings already being targeted by 2014. The annual NHS budget has been ring-fenced by the Government. However, GHG CEO Adrian Fawcett believes that despite assurances of real-term increases for the life of this parliament, this will not be enough to match annual NHS inflation and the result will be a longer wait for treatment.
He said: “As a society we are living longer and are less fit due to our lifestyle choices, and this is only going to place greater strain on NHS resources in the future. The combination of this increasing demand and an overstretched NHS budget means further treatment de-prioritisation is inevitable and waiting lists look set to rise significantly, resulting in more people opting to seek care from private providers.
“As GPs take responsibility for commissioning, they will be very aware that they have to make the most of their budgets for the benefit of all patients. It is not surprising therefore that we will see GPs increasingly referring patients to the private sector if patients want access to timelier treatment.
“During the height of the recession, the self-pay market suffered the most as people lost confidence in their ability to pay but we are starting to see the green-shoots of recovery in this form of healthcare funding.
“It is inevitable that due to the pressures facing the healthcare market some people will decide that for treatments which impact their quality of life, they are increasingly prepared to pay for it themselves. Increasing the sources of funding for healthcare is paramount in terms of preserving high quality of care.”