It’s no surprise to find the Daily Telegraph singing the praises of private medicine, but readers encouraged to take up the apparent bargain basement prices quoted in a January 25 article entitled ‘The five health treatments you should go private for’ are in for a rude awakening.

Top of the list is ‘hip and knee replacements:’ but while the NHS waiting times are indeed agonisingly long, it could take even longer to locate any private hospital in Britain willing to do a knee replacement for the Torygraph estimate of £950 to £2,500. The real figure is almost six times higher.

The Practice Plus group website, for example, explains that “as a guide price, you can expect to pay anything from £5,000-£15,000 for your knee surgery, while Private Healthcare UK puts the average cost of partial knee replacement at £11,106.

Costs of hernia repair are equally drastically underestimated by the Telegraph at between £300-£800, while the Best of Health website warns the typical cost is more than five times higher, between £2,390 & £4,406 (excluding initial consultation and prior diagnostic tests fees).

On cataract surgery, the Telegraph estimates costs between £838 and £2,445 excluding consultant fees, while the Laser Eye Surgery hub states that prices per eye are between £1,995 – £3,150 for standard monofocal lenses and £3,495-£4,100 for multifocal lenses.

The Torygraph hack, Abigail Buchanan, appears to have based her figures on a new, misleading calculator promoted by the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN).

It’s not clear how this outfit, which solely exists to drum up trade for private hospitals, could have got the figures so wildly wrong: but perhaps they are desperate to see some uplift in the stubbornly static numbers of people seeking private hospital care.

Back in December the PHIN published figures for the second quarter of 2022/23 which showed only the most marginal increase in numbers of private operations since 2019, despite the massive increase in numbers stuck on NHS waiting lists.

Right wing newspapers (and some confused left wing campaigners) seized upon the 33% increase in numbers of “self-pay” patients being treated in Britain’s mostly tiny private hospitals: but they have ignored two other important facts.

One was that the 33% increase was from a very low base, so in fact only added 17,000 extra patients to just 50,000 self-pay punters in the same period in 2019. The other was that there has been a corresponding drop in numbers of insured patients – leaving the total almost unchanged.

It’s also worth noting that almost half (47%) of the self-pay patients were in just three regions (London, the South East and South West) where the private hospitals are most concentrated.

The reality seems to be that many people stuck on NHS queues are either waiting for treatment the private sector doesn’t offer, or unable to pay the much higher costs of private treatment than the PHIN wants people to know about.

Whatever the reason, the private sector is clearly not booming or expanding that much, and the real statistics underline how vital the NHS is, and what good value it represents, especially for the Torygraph’s many older readers.


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