New IPPR/YouGov polling shows that 31 per cent of adults in Britain – the equivalent of 16 million people – struggled to access the care they needed during the pandemic. Of these, almost one in eight (12 per cent) used some form of paid-for alternative and one in five considered doing so, with this proportion rising for wealthier people.
The report provides a snapshot of the declining access and quality of NHS care, heightened by the pandemic, which is driving more people towards private healthcare.
New IPPR expenditure analysis shows that since the 1970s, the UK has seen the fastest rise in people paying for private healthcare and products in the G7. The report argues that this trend should alarm policymakers, as it signals that people are not receiving the quality and accessibility of NHS care that they deserve and expect.
The report argues that this move towards private healthcare by those who can afford it could be undermining the foundations of a universal health system and the spirit of the NHS. According to the report, the risk to the NHS isn’t so much of a sudden shift to an American-style health system, but of the emergence of an unequal two-tier system that comes to “resemble the English education system, where a mediocre standard is available for everyone, but the best is only available to those who can and are willing to pay.”
Polling reveals that one in six Britons (17 per cent) say they would go private if they knew that they faced waiting longer than 18 weeks from referral to begin treatment on the NHS. A further 59 per cent say they wouldn’t opt for private healthcare because they couldn’t afford it, and just 10 per cent rejecting private healthcare on principle.
Researchers warn that if private healthcare becomes the ‘new normal’ for those who can afford it after the pandemic, it could further entrench and deepen health inequalities.
The report shows that people don’t want to see the emergence of a two-tier system. Despite the perception that private healthcare is better quality, the IPPR/YouGov polling found cross-party universal support for the core principles of an NHS free-at-the-point-of-delivery (88 per cent). Leaders should therefore draw on the public’s enduring support for NHS values as a clear mandate to invest in providing universal free access to the best possible care, according to IPPR.
The think tank argues that tackling long waiting times and poor outcomes is vital to ensuring the long-term survival of the NHS and arresting the trend towards an unequal two-tier system that increases health inequalities.
- The state of health and care 2022. IPPR. March 2022