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The COVID bonus as patient waiting lists soar

Massive increases in waiting lists mean that private healthcare should be well placed for growth over the next few years.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that big hikes in waiting lists spell opportunity for private providers.  The situation varies by country – in general, nations with big NHS systems and small private sectors are most likely to see huge hikes in waiting lists.

Those such as Switzerland, Germany or France, where there is a large spare capacity, appear not be seeing the hikes we are now witnessing in the UK, Sweden and Spain, countries that are arguably under-bedded  The situation is likely to be even more favourable for the private sector in emerging markets.

In a detailed report, Almega, The Swedish Association of Private Care Providers reckons that it would take three years to work off the postponed surgeries. Even that calculation is based on the assumption that the entire system, public and private, ups efficiency by 5%, a highly unlikely scenario.  In April, there were 54% fewer surgeries performed in Sweden compared to last year. And that is from the only country in Europe that has not enforced lockdown!

It is a broadly similar picture in the UK and Spain. In England, recent NHS figures show that more than 50,000 patients have now waited more than a year for NHS treatment after being referred by a general practitioner. The figure up to the end of June is a huge rise from the 1,613 patients waiting more than a year in February this year. Earlier this month, leaked data from hospitals in London alone showed that more than 20,000 patients were waiting longer than a year in July. The Times has recently led with a story claiming that there is a secret 15m people waiting for further procedures at hospitals.

It is a similar but less drastic picture in Spain, where, in January 2020 there were 705,000 citizens on waiting lists which averaged 121 days. Today the wait has increased for surgery and diagnostic tests by 50%.

But this gloomy picture doesn’t extend to Germany. according to a survey from the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV). This shows that 31% of patients experienced no wait at all to see a doctor. That’s actually better than the 29% recorded in 2019!

What does all this mean? A Swedish operator put it like this: “There will be plenty of work for us for years to come and we are likely to see more contracting out to the private sector.”

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Max Hotopf or call 0207 183 3779.