'Unprecedented rise' of patients going private in Norfolk as NHS waiting lists hit record high

  • A Norwich private healthcare provider has seen almost 70% growth in three years, as Rob Setchell reports for ITV News Anglia.

A private healthcare provider said it had seen an "unprecedented rise" in people choosing to fund their own treatment rather than sit on NHS waiting lists.

Spire, which has 39 hospitals and 22 clinics across the country, saw a 9% rise in "self-pay" patients last year and a 12% rise in patients covering treatment through medical insurance.

It comes as NHS waiting lists hit record highs - more than 7.5 million people are waiting for treatment in England - and as appointments and operations continue to be postponed because of strikes.

Nayab Haider, the company's hospital director in Norwich, said: "Post-pandemic we have seen unprecedented demand in our self-pay business. For example, in Spire Norwich we have seen 69% growth from 2019 to 2022."

Rob Meakin, from Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex, said after months of waiting for a hip operation on the NHS he decided to spend his savings - around £15,000 - to fund the treatment privately.

"Without health you've got nothing," said the 66-year-old self-employed builder.

"All the things I do in my life I've had to stop doing. Basically I've got no life now. No work, no hobbies.

"So it needs to be done. The money? I'll find that somewhere. I've got some savings, I'll use that. I'll find that money to get my health back."

BMA members striking at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Credit: ITV Anglia

The rise in the number of people paying raises questions about health inequality, in which those who are able to pay can circumvent waiting lists, while those who cannot are left to wait their turn, often for months or years.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said staff were working evenings and weekends to try to tackle the waiting lists.

But he said strikes, including the most recent two-day walk-out by consultants, were hampering progress.

He said: "We do need a national solution to the industrial action because it feels sometimes like one step forward and three back.

"It's not a judgement about whether the industrial action is right or wrong. It's just a simple statement that we need a solution - because the patients are paying the price."

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