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‘More progress needed’ on private healthcare fee transparency

Terms and conditions need to be clearer, says PHIN

Although progress is being made on clearer fees for private medical treatment, more needs to be done for consumers, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN).

An informal secret shopper exercise commissioned by PHIN highlighted the lack of clarity on fees consumers may face.

It took several exchanges with hospitals and consultants’ medical secretaries to find out if the fees quoted were all inclusive or if there would be other charges. This was hardest for potential patients of consultants who did not offer a package price.

PHIN warned that medical fees are just one part of the total price of private healthcare, and that work remains to do to bring full transparency to fees and charges for patients.

On PHIN’s website, patients can find information about local specialists offering the treatment they need, including professional fees. PHIN has also launched a new comparative tool to show how prices vary nationally by procedure.

PHIN’s data confirms that for initial and follow-up consultations and many procedures there is a premium to pay for treatment in London. However, cataract surgery, the most common private procedure in the UK, is most expensive in the South West, according to the data submitted to PHIN.

To help self-pay patients get a clearer picture of the likely fees they could face, PHIN has produced a guide and video along with a checklist of key things to ask when considering treatment options.

It is recommending that all 15,000+ consultants in the UK who offer private treatment publish their fees on PHIN’s website, in order to meet their current legal obligations.

It wants to see all private hospitals publish their prices on PHIN’s website to ensure that patients get a complete, transparent and fair picture of costs when choosing a provider. PHIN already enables hospitals to publish prices for common procedures, and some hospitals have begun to publish their inclusive package prices.

It said the private healthcare sector needs to do more work together to ensure that patients can get a guide price for the full expected price of treatment, and that prices, terms and conditions can be easily compared.

Despite improved transparency on price, patients may still struggle to compare terms and conditions between providers – for example, whether diagnostic, physio or follow-ups are included in a quoted price, PHIN said. 

Matt James, chief executive of PHIN, argued that the private healthcare sector must do more to ensure that terms, conditions and price are constructed with the patient in mind.

“This is understandably very complex, and will take time to work through, but is the right thing to do for patients,” he said. “Patients should know that they have legal rights to have fees set out in advance, so they can better compare their options before committing to a particular consultant.”