Health crisis: 1,000 Scots desert NHS every week
MIDDLE class Scots are deserting the NHS in unprecedented numbers and taking out private health cover, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Fears over lengthy waiting lists and the poor state of some hospitals have fuelled a 60% increase over three years in Scots paying for private medical insurance, and the number is expected to pass the half million mark within months.
Industry figures obtained by this newspaper show that more than 1,000 Scots a week are quitting the NHS, and the rate is accelerating despite billions of pounds of extra investment.
Health experts and opposition politicians said the figures amounted to a damning vote of no confidence in the system by affluent Scots who were not prepared to wait months to see a consultant.
Ministers are already under fire over the lack of progress in reforming the Scottish NHS and bringing down waiting times. Last week, Scotland on Sunday revealed that chronic mismanagement of the service had resulted in English treatment rates overtaking Scotland for the first time. Today we reveal Scots are twice as likely to be stuck on an outpatient waiting list as people in England.
As a result, soaring numbers of Scots who would once have been loyal to the NHS are voting with their feet. The growth of private health care in Scotland is shown in figures by Laing and Buisson - regarded as the Britain’s leading private health analysts.
At the end of 2000, 253,147 Scots were signed up for private health cover - only 6% of the Scottish population. But by the end of 2003 - the latest date for which figures are available - an extra 151,000 had private cover, taking the total to 405,000 or 8.2% of the population.
Private health insurance companies say take-up north of the Border has continued to grow since then, meaning that by the end of this year the total number will have exceeded 500,000, to approach 11% of the population.
Although the figure for the rest of the UK is 13%, that has increased by only 0.1% since 2001.
Private insurance typically costs 40 per month for an individual. Rates rise for the elderly, with a fully comprehensive package for a 65-year old costing in the region of 130. About 40% of the total receive private care as part of their employment packages.
Analysis of last month’s figures at the online health care broker Essential Healthcare, showed that 14% of new clients came from north of the Border.
If the sign-ups had been according to Scotland’s share of the UK population, then just 8.5% would have been Scottish.
Brian Mulreany, marketing director of Essential Healthcare, said: "Anecdotally it seemed to be the case that more Scots were getting private healthcare. But when I analysed our figures for last month they were quite startling.
"There is also a big change in the profile of people seeking cover. Before now the typical person getting private care was a wealthy professional in their 40s. Now there are far more young couples in their 20s or 30s, and couples with children."
Mulreany cited a recent example of a professional who had signed up for private care.
He said: "He was shocked. He needed diagnosis for a heart-related condition and he was told that it was an emergency situation and it had to happen as soon as possible.
"He was then kept waiting and waiting for days for the test, which he had been told was an urgent case."
Dr Matthew Dunnigan, a senior research fellow in health policy at Glasgow University, said: "These figures represent a relative vote of no confidence in the health service in Scotland and confirm anecdotal experience. People are reacting to the failure of the NHS in Scotland."
Nanette Milne, the Scottish Tory spokeswoman, said: "These figures are an indictment of the way the health service is being run.
"It is a clear vindication of our policy that the NHS should not be from the top down, with centrally imposed targets."
Andy Kerr, the Scottish Executive health minister, said many of the people receiving private health cover would have it as a result of an employment package.
He said: "It’s complete nonsense to suggest that the private insurance people receive as part of their employment implies a lack of confidence in Scotland’s national health service."
But Shona Robison, the SNP’s health spokeswoman, said: "This is nothing but a desperate excuse from Labour.
"If it’s corporate packages, then why such an increase in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK?"
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