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Massive increase in private healthcare a ‘damning indictment’

17 May 2024

Leading local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS), has called figures showing a large surge in people seeking private healthcare a ‘damning indictment’ on the leadership of the NHS in Northern Ireland.   

Eugene Reid, Policy and Engagement Officer at the charity, said; “The fact that we have seen a 218 per cent increase in private health treatment – far out-stripping the increase in England, Scotland and Wales - shows that many patients in Northern Ireland have given up hope of being treated by the NHS. Our health service is in crisis and that crisis is due to poor leadership both at a political level and within our civil service and our health service.”   

“During the same period, the number of staff in health and social care services has increased markedly - by more than 15% - with no indication that the level of hospital activity has increased as a result. That is a damning indictment, and it is no wonder that patients are voting not just with their feet but their hard-earned cash.”   

“The situation is stark, and it surely reflects the fact that in Northern Ireland we have some of, if not the, longest waiting lists in Western Europe. We are now in a situation here, where care is provided not based on need, but on an individual’s ability, and or willingness, to pay for it. That goes against everything the NHS was set up to do. It will increase health inequalities and mean that many of our citizens will simply be unable to receive the care they need. The people we represent, many of whom suffer from long term conditions, will be particularly affected.”   

Data from the Nuffield Trust think-tank shows the number of people paying out of pocket for hospital care has spiked since the pandemic - with the biggest rises occurring in Scotland, Wales, but especially in Northern Ireland.  

Between September 2019 and September 2023, paid hospital admissions were up 218 per cent in Northern Ireland, 124 per cent in Wales, 80 per cent in Scotland and 20 per cent in England. Across the whole of the UK, this means a 32% increase in out-of-pocket admission and day cases between September 2019 to September 2023.