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Three quarters of London GP s believe that a healthy private sector, running alongside the NHS, is good for patient choice, according to a survey carried out by BMI Healthcare’s network of London hospitals. The survey also revealed that patients need to be more aware of the treatment options available to them. Over half (55%) of the GPs surveyed said that most of their patients did not have a good understanding of their options outside of the NHS.

It has been claimed that localised rationing of procedures in the NHS, such as hip and knee replacements, has led to a “postcode lottery” for treatments. In instances where residents may not fit the eligibility criteria for certain restricted procedures, BMI Healthcare, in London, is encouraging local residents to become more savvy around the options for treatment available outside of the NHS. Jan Hale Executive Director at BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital in Harrow commented: “Constraints on NHS funding mean that eligibility criteria have been introduced for certain procedures, and it is well publicised that in some instances the criteria varies widely across London.”

The main alternatives available to residents, away from standard NHS pathways, include private medical insurance and the option to self-pay. In London approximately 1 in 6 residents (17% ) have private medical insurance, way above the UK average of 10.8% . But, the survey commissioned by BMI Healthcare in London revealed that just over one in ten (11%) of the London GPs surveyed actually ask their patients if they have private medical insurance. Over three quarters of GPs (77%) believe it is the patient’s responsibility to mention if they have private medical insurance during their appointment.

“As a society we all need to be aware of the choices available to us when it comes to our health,” Jan Hale Executive Director at BMI The Clementine Churchill Hospital commented. “At BMI Healthcare many of our team members come from a background in the NHS and we are proud supporters of the institution and its goals. But, as a nation and as patients we have to accept that it cannot provide universal access for all our healthcare needs.”

As NHS rationing becomes more common over a third (40%) of the GPs surveyed said they had seen an increase in patients using their savings or other methods to pay for treatment. When a treatment or service is unavailable or restricted by the NHS, 70% of GPs said that they would discuss the self-pay option. But again, the majority of GPs (55%) said they believed that it was the responsibility of the patient to bring up the option of them self-funding a procedure if it wasn’t available through the NHS.

“GPs play a vital role in the UK healthcare market. With the changes being made to their responsibilities and with the increased pressures being placed upon them we need to realise that patients have to take an increased interest in our responsibility to make informed decision around the choices we can make in the UK healthcare market. Being aware of when we can use our private medical insurance and how we initiate conversations with our GP around self-pay can actually benefit the NHS, by allowing GPs to make the most of their NHS budgets. We need to move away from the idea that the NHS and private sector are in competition against each other and accept the limitations and advantages of each,” Jan concluded.

The survey also revealed how London GPs themselves access care in the private sector. Nearly half (46%) of all the GPs surveyed revealed that they had private medical insurance and 55% of the GPs surveyed said they had received treatment in a private hospital. Almost one third (29%) of the London GPs surveyed said they had, in the past, self-funded a procedure within a private hospital. The reasons behind receiving treatment at a private hospital included 8% saying they made the decision because the treatment they were after was unavailable on the NHS and 38% made the decision to avoid long NHS waiting times.

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