NHS privatisation cartoon, photo Alan Hardman

NHS privatisation cartoon, photo Alan Hardman   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Jon Dale

As waiting times for NHS treatment lengthen, more people can be tempted by private medical insurance. This is a dangerous trend – for the NHS and for all but the wealthiest few.

In February, more patients than ever waited over 18 weeks for planned hospital care – over 260,000. 83,000 people had to wait over 26 weeks and almost 9,400 waited more than 39 weeks.

Record numbers of cancer patients also had to wait. Hospitals breached two of the eight cancer waiting time targets. Only 81% of people referred by their GP to have a first treatment for cancer got it within 62 days.

Over 5 million people have private medical insurance. Four fifths are paid by employers, the average cost being £700 a year. Prices for older people can be much higher. The cost is increasing four times faster than the rate of inflation.

Medical insurance companies are keen to cut the cost of insurance – for themselves. Like all insurance companies, they want more low risk customers paying premiums but fewer claims, especially for expensive treatment.

Now they are offering more than 10% discounts to people who share their fitness data. Trackers such as Fitbits measure how active the wearer is and can collect information about gym sessions and supermarket visits. They could also track heart rate and blood pressure. This information could be used to stop those in greater need of medical care being insured, unless at a prohibitively high premium.

Lengthening waiting lists and daily attacks on the NHS by the government and in the media can drive more people who can afford it to insure for private treatment. Those most in need of healthcare are usually least able to pay.

A massive trade union-led campaign is needed to save our NHS providing treatment for all and prevent US-style treatment by credit card.