Remote services developed during the pandemic enabled the UK to maintain some of the overseas demand for medical services that it enjoyed prior to the pandemic, according to LaingBuisson’s latest Private Acute Healthcare UK Market Report.
The first edition of this report to be issued since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic paints a picture of where the market was immediately prior to the start of the pandemic, the impact the pandemic has had, and the private healthcare sector’s recovery as markets have started to reopen.
The market in 2019 is estimated to have been worth £6.17 billion, a real terms growth of more than 3% from 2018. This was fuelled by expanded private medical insurance spending, NHS contracts and embassy spending in London, though tempered by a decline in domestic self-pay patients.
The coronavirus pandemic of course had an extraordinary impact on healthcare, with independent hospitals making beds, theatres and clinicians available to the NHS ‘at cost’, and elective surgery all but coming to a halt. Even though the end of 2020 saw independent hospitals working at above 2019 levels to meet demand, LaingBuisson estimates that the market contracted by around 30% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Following the first few months of 2021, the independent hospital sector in the UK has started to recover well. The number of people treated on private medical insurance has increased, as insurance companies have sought to ensure treatment of their clients. There have also been high numbers of NHS-funded admissions to private hospitals as NHS managers have sought to reduce waiting lists. The opportunity presented by the NHS is set to continue through to the end of 2021 and into 2022, supported by the government’s £10 billion procurement initiative.
Also, owing to the NHS waiting lists resulting from the pandemic, there has been increased interest in self-pay (where patients pay from their own pocket), especially for elective surgery and diagnostics. The interest in private medical cover also grew strongly during this period, and this has been boosted as more remote access services have been made available to policyholders to enable them to quickly access healthcare expertise and advice.
Of note to inbound medical travel, remote services strengthened access to London for international customers and this, together with London’s reputation as a centre for medical excellence, has put the UK in a good position to attract renewed overseas demand as travel restrictions start to reduce.