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NHS branded ‘unsustainable’ as waiting times exceed 18 weeks

Patients turn to private health insurance to cut wait times & improve drug access

Private health insurance

As a record number of patients wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment, the National Audit Office (NAO) has labelled the NHS ‘unsustainable’ following losses of £500m.

Sir Amyas Morse, NAO chief, said: “The growth trend of NHS trusts and foundation trusts in deficit is not sustainable. We cannot be confident value for money will be achieved over the next five years.”

Long waiting lists

In September 2014, more than 37,000 patients waited longer than the target of 18 weeks for treatment, the most since the target was introduced in 2008, and official figures now reveal that more than 3.2 million people are stuck on an NHS waiting list.

Just as concerning is a recent study by The Royal College of Radiologists which found that many suspected cancer patients were waiting for more than a month to find out the results of their scans and x-rays, against the NHS expectation of waiting one week at most.

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Radiologists said: “If this [the study] reflects the national picture, about 300,000 patients are currently waiting more than a month for their x-rays to be analysed and about 6000 patients have waited more than a month for the results of CT and MRI scans.”

Limited access to drugs

In recent weeks it was also declared that 42 drugs under the Cancer Drugs Fund were being reassessed and that the fund will introduce price restrictions for the first time.

Among those drugs which are being reassessed is the breast cancer drug Kadcyla which can extend life by six months but costs £90,000 a course. Caitlin Palframan, the Senior Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “The fund is the only way women in England can routinely access these drugs that can offer them months, or even years, of additional good quality life.”

Private health insurance

Against this backdrop of increasing pressure on NHS resources, more people are taking out private health insurance. Whilst it does not replace the core services provided by the NHS, private health insurance complements it by allowing patients and their families to bypass NHS waiting lists and receive a speedy initial consultation.

For conditions that require an X-ray, MRI or CT scan, these are arranged quickly and the results are often immediate. Should the diagnosis then require treatment or surgery, this can be arranged at a hospital and a time to suit the patient, and policies can be tailored to include specialist cancer care, giving access to drugs that may not always be available on the NHS.

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