Where does private medical insurance (PMI) position itself alongside our National Health Service? For many years PMI has been seen as a luxury purchase but that is no longer the case. There are now a number of low-cost policies in the market which can act as an entry level for many people to PMI. Not all of these are comprehensive policies and therefore many can sit alongside the NHS.
Examples from the continent
When looking for examples of a collaborative healthcare system, our European neighbours provide a number of case studies. Britain’s healthcare system is very different to many other European countries. The healthcare system in France, for example, offers core services for free but requires citizens to insure themselves for complex and more expensive services. The integration of public and private hospitals, doctors and other medical service providers ensures that every citizen has a basic level of healthcare that can be accessed at the point of use, while also providing choice to individuals when it comes to dealing with more serious illnesses.
Germany also follows a similar model to France. The country has a dual system for their healthcare which requires individuals to take out either compulsory public or private insurance. If a person’s salary is below €56,250, and they are not self-employed, it is obligatory to be a member of the Government’s healthcare system being insured for at least hospital and outpatient medical treatment. This compulsory insurance is based on a concept of a welfare state, with contributions based upon income. Members of the scheme are given a choice of over 100 health insurance funds with some offering voluntary supplemental programmes such as no claims bonuses. Alternatively, private insurance is available for those who have opted out of the public healthcare system with premiums based on their age and medical history.
While these examples don’t offer all the answers and might not necessarily fit the UK’s healthcare culture, they do offer some indication of how private medical insurance could work alongside the NHS.
The benefits of PMI for the NHS
How then, could PMI work alongside the UK’s healthcare system to bolster medical support for the public?
Financial pressure and an ageing population is putting more and more stress on the NHS, so the relief that PMI could provide, if it works in tandem with public healthcare, could help the NHS to meet the demands and requirements of its patients. Hospital admissions have already hit record highs, and the NHS is missing its targets for critical illnesses like cancer.
PMI could be used to give individuals a basic level of private healthcare for short-term, curable conditions that can often take up much of the NHS’s time. This would allow the NHS to better focus its efforts on medical provisions that are needed the most, such as critical illnesses like cancer, which seem to be becoming more common.
This doesn’t mean, however, that these healthcare provisions should be taken away from the NHS and be accessible through private healthcare only. For the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, it’s important that there continues to be access to all levels of healthcare. However, taking away just some of the burden and pressure on the public healthcare system could go a long way to freeing up bed space, doctors, nurses and funding in order to help the NHS refocus on where medical care is needed the most.
Time is of the essence
The NHS does a fantastic job of caring for millions of people in the UK, providing vital treatment. Patients are reassured that the NHS will prioritise chronic and critical illnesses, but unfortunately, less serious illnesses can often take a back seat as a result. For these, patients can all too often find themselves facing lengthy waiting times and delays.
It’s here that PMI can work collaboratively with the NHS to the benefit of the patient, speeding up diagnosis times to help individuals get back to their daily lives with minimum delay. There are so many conditions that, if left untreated, will not only continue to lower a patient’s quality of life, but could potentially progress into a more serious condition.
One of the areas hit hardest by increasing demand and budget constraints is GP practices. With the average waiting time for a routine appointment rising to 13 days, it is no surprise to see a raft of digital options appearing in the market offering virtual appointments with a private GP, nor to see some PMI policies covering GP appointments.
While we appreciate the enormous pressure on the NHS as the reasons behind why delays occur, it clearly reinforces the role PMI could play alongside public healthcare.
A role for the industry
Moving forward, intermediaries and private medical insurers should each consider raising awareness about the role PMI could play in situations where it meets customers’ needs. PMI could make that big difference to your clients. It’s therefore important that as an industry, we remain proactive in voicing the benefits of PMI to the public, giving them the peace of mind that, should they require quick access to quality health care, they have a variety of options available. At the same time, the industry could work with Government to establish how PMI could be incorporated into any future national healthcare solution.
Our ageing, expanding population means that pressure on the NHS will only be stronger, so now is the time for us to look in depth at how PMI could play a greater role in helping to provide treatment for individuals across the country.
Jonathan Long is CEO of National Friendly
 Under title: ‘The French healthcare system: how it works’