NHS Waiting Lists
According to the British Medical Association (BMA), in March this year, 7.33 million patients were waiting for treatment or surgery on the NHS. Those waiting for treatment understandably feel frustrated, anxious, angry, and helpless.
Covid-19 caused havoc for the NHS, creating a massive backlog of appointments and treatments. In March 2023, the NHS reported that 3.3 million people waited over 18 weeks for treatment, while approximately 360,000 patients waited over a year.
Despite slight improvements in 2021 and 2022, the BMA claims the figures are rising and fears it could take years to resolve the backlog problem.
It is not quite all doom and gloom. The assistance of the 111 online services, pharmacists, and local community services, along with the government providing an additional 7,800 beds, helps to take the pressure off the GPs and hospitals. But the recent industrial actions due to NHS staff shortages and overworked workforces have created great uncertainty.
Does this leave you feeling exasperated when you cannot see your GP quickly, or the specialist consultant appointment will be months ahead? We all know that our health is one of life’s most important factors. So, it is only natural to want to feel in control of our medical requirements.
Jumping the queue
Many people seek alternative options to jump the NHS waiting queues, with health insurance and private care being the most popular. The Private Health Information Network (PHIN) figures show a steady increase in procedures paid for with private medical insurance.
Private medical insurance provides peace of mind and financial support when needed. But ensure to read the policy carefully, as insurers do not cover existing problems, so you must self-pay for private care if you do not want to wait. While self-funding healthcare may be financially out of reach for many, some procedures are less expensive than you may think and, in some cases, can even be financed.
Below we outline the top 8 non-emergency medical conditions with long waiting times. We explain how much surgery costs and the different options available.
Hip and knee replacements
An ever-increasing number of people require hip and knee replacements, and with advanced medical technology, patients can regain mobility and be pain-free. But, NHS patients can expect to wait over a year or longer for surgery, so people must consider whether the extended physical hardship is worth the wait for free care through the NHS.
How much does it cost to self-fund a hip or knee replacement in the UK? Prices vary considerably throughout the UK, with knee replacement surgery ranging from £9,000 to £19,000 per knee and a hip replacement between £9,000 to £15,000. It is worth noting that consultation fees, tests, and scans will be charged extra. Doing your “homework” to find a clinic that suits your needs will save you money.
Inguinal hernia is the most common type. A bulge in the groin or abdominal area appears when a weak spot in the abdominal wall muscles causes internal organs to push through.
Surgery for Inguinal hernias is only on the NHS urgent list if the patient experiences extreme pain, nausea, and fever. In this situation, the hernia may have become strangulated (the surrounding muscles blocking the blood flow) and requires emergency surgery.
There are 2 types of Inguinal hernia surgery procedures, and with both, you should be able to go home on the same day:
• Open surgery. The surgeon will make an incision to repair the hernia.
• Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery – Not all surgeons choose this method, although recovery is quicker.
How much does it cost to treat an Inguinal Hernia? Self-funding the required treatment through a private consultant could cost anything from £2,400 for the Primary Repair of the Inguinal Hernia to £4,500 for the Laparoscopic Repair of the Inguinal Hernia – Bilateral, excluding consultation fees.
We all take our eyesight for granted until problems start. Cataracts are one of the most common ailments in the UK. Cataracts are when cloudy patches develop on your eye’s lens, causing vision difficulties.
The British Journal of Ophthalmology claims the median waiting list time for eye surgery is 9 months to two years. With an average of 600,000 people waiting for a cataract operation, many decide to self-fund between £1,800 to £3,500 to jump the queue.
Varicose vein surgery
Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition. However, discuss with your GP if you are in considerable pain or if it is causing sleep deprivation. Treatment is not always needed if your varicose veins are not causing discomfort. Your GP will give the best advice.
The NHS considers varicose veins as cosmetic surgery. Therefore, the chances of receiving treatment under the NHS are rare.
Private treatment for varicose veins can be expensive, ranging from £900 to £4,000, depending on the veins and if both legs require treatment. While many clinics offer “package deals,” discussing the extra costs, like consultation fees, is advisable.
Carpal Tunnel is a syndrome when there is pressure on the nerve in the wrist. Symptoms are often worse at night, so wearing a wrist splint while you sleep can provide relief.
Your GP will suggest you take over-the-counter pain relief medication or may recommend a steroid injection. However, these are short-term remedies, but if the symptoms persist for longer than 6 months, your GP may refer you to a specialist.
A 30-60 minute outpatient surgery is a curative method. However, having already waited months to be referred and an additional 33-62 weeks (depending on the area in the UK) to see a specialist is too long to wait.
How much does Carpal Tunnel surgery cost? Self-funding surgery can range from £900 for one hand to £1,700 for both hands. Consultation fees and physiotherapy cost extra, but some clinics offer all-inclusive prices.
Endoscopy / Colonoscopy
The outpatient procedure for an Endoscopy or Colonoscopy uses a thin, flexible telescope to enable the doctor to examine the esophagus, colon, stomach, and small and large intestines to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Endoscopy or Colonoscopy can detect different conditions, such as colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and precancerous or cancerous polyps.
The NHS guidelines for diagnostic testing are, on average, 6 weeks from the referral date and 2 weeks for potential cancer symptoms. “This timescale is unrealistic; Carol from London told Healthplan, ” I had to wait two years for a colonoscopy through an NHS-assisted private hospital. Thankfully, the results were negative; imagine if they were not.”
The apprehension of waiting for the results and treatment means more people are paying approximately £1,000 to £2,500 for an Endoscopy or Colonoscopy for quick results and a speedy recovery.
An MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a diagnostic test to detect damage to muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments. The magnetic fields and radio waves also accurately examine the organs.
In January 2023, the NHS reported 1.5 million people waiting for diagnostic testing, including MRI scans. Getting an appointment could take an average of 6-18 weeks and an additional 1-2 weeks to receive the results.
How much does a private MRI scan cost? Choosing private care could mean getting an MRI scan appointment in a week and the results a few days later. Depending on the location, you could pay between £475 to £565.
What can I do if I do not have medical insurance or the funds to pay privately?
The Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) states that most patients throughout the UK are unaware they have a right to choose an NHS hospital or private consultants treating NHS patients.
The waiting times differ throughout the UK. The North East hospitals may have a shorter waiting list than the South West of England.
If a patient is okay with traveling outside their region, then requesting the GP for a referral to the hospital of their choice could jump the queue.
The NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) is a platform for patients throughout the UK to choose a hospital or clinic and book their first outpatient appointment online. Appointments on the digital platform are automatically booked through your GP surgery, allowing the referrals to be authorised.
Poor health conditions affect your daily life, mobility, and driving. It prevents you from working and, in turn, becomes a financial burden. The solution could be self-funding private care and spreading the cost over time.
The majority of healthcare services offer finance packages to suit your needs. Nuffield Health Hospitals provide 6, 10, or 12-month interest-free loans through Chrysalis Finance. Whereas Bupa Health offers “pay as you go” when needed for consultations, physiotherapy, and health assessments.
Another quick and easy solution is the NHS Internet online consultation app. Should you require medical advice, the online consultation enables you to discuss symptoms with a GP or health advisor without going to the surgery. Check if your local GP Surgery provides this service.
Please check the below website for further information on the NHS online consultations:
Despite overcrowded hospitals, long waiting lists, and a decline in patient care, we all know that the dedicated NHS staff are doing an excellent job but are under extreme pressure. It is not just down to the NHS workforce or the government to provide us with a healthier future. We, as patients, must help by attending appointments and refraining from using A&E emergency services when unnecessary.
We take our health for granted until it is too late, so preparing yourself for the unexpected with medical insurance will give you peace of mind for yourself and your family.