Private medical insurance is still a murky area for many trade unionists. If they are ill and treated in an independent hospital, with a private room and high quality meals, then this does not rest easily with comrades. So it is surprising to discover there is one way they can get access to speedy treatment, in superb surroundings and still not break any policitical taboos.
Manor House Healthcare has its roots in France where it was set up as a voluntary care organisation for the war wounded in 1915. By 1919 it moved to the UK where a hospital was established in Hampstead, north London. Manor House took on friendly society status and the hospital developed expertise in orthopaedic injuries, among other treatments.
Membership grew rapidly among trade union workers in particular. This was, of course, in the days before the National Health Service, and the society was studied by Nye Bevan when he was working on a blue print for healthcare. It is said he was highly impresssed by its philosophy and standards of care.
However, when the National Health Service was established, and subsequently expanded, membership of all friendly societies – Manor House included-dropped substantially.
Manor House continued to operate, but after membership stopped tailing off, it remained static. The society needed a new direction. This came in the form of managing director John Holme, who joined after a career in NHS trust management, and has succeeded both in boosting membership and profitability.
Board of elected representatives
The society has its headquarters in Hertford and employs some 50 staff. Here the Manor House board meets regularly. This is based on elected representatives from members and presently includes a teacher and a bus driver. Holme explains that many of the board members realise they have to relinquish any utopian ideals and understand the pressures of running a healthcare business. The company must meet solvency margins and is regulated by the Financial Services Act Manor House Healthcare now operates a network of 45 hospitals and this includes the original Hampstead Manor House Hospital, which the company still owns. This also admits patients who are not members, with the profits ploughed back into the society.
Cost is contained through firm management of claims. Holme explains: “Patients are not allowed to request their own doctor, but we guarantee they will receive treatment within a maximum of three weeks. It is a simple no-frills service and with a cash-strapped NHS, we provide a quick and effective solution.”
Subscriptions are within almost everyone’s pocket – £3 a week with no increases for age, which is the equivalent of £156.43 a week. For groups these drop to £2.60 and for very large companies, ICI for example, they are even lower. “People do ask us what the catch is, but there really isn’t one,” says Holme.
No-one over 64 is eligible to join, although members who have joined earlier are able to keep their membership even after retirement. Families are also able to join Manor House at highly competitive prices.
Exclusions are not extensive, but include no psychiatric care, cardiac or neuro surgery or accident and emergency treatment. That said, there is no difference in the standard of care. “It is exactly the same as any other private healthcare,” comments Holme.
But because Manor House still retains strong union and blue collar links, the term private medical insurance is not used and instead it is referred to as independent healthcare.
Cover can be paid for in a number of ways. Some employers will pay the full subscription, and ICI and Stagecoach are among these. Others such as BAA will fund 50% of the subscription. The company also has some individual subscribers, but is largest in companies. Leading subscribers include Jaguar, British Gas and Texaco.
Many subscriptions are sold direct through employers, but Manor House Healthcare is now investigating the intermediary channel. Recently it linked up with three intermediaries, all of whom handle employee benefits business. Holme says the experiment is proving a success and he is planning to work with more brokers based on a negotiable commission.
Since Manor House has its own in-house design and marketing division, it is prepared to assist intermediaries by providing them with branded literature which makes their job easier.
Last year, Manor House Healthcare grew by an impressive 6% But Holme is not planning to rest on his laurels and says he aims to double this figure this year. Manor House may have its roots in the past but it is very much looking to the future.