THE number of Scots paying for medical treatment at private hospitals has increased by 73 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Newly published data for 2022 shows that there were 14,765 admissions to private hospitals in Scotland from January to the end of September last year, where patients were funding procedures out of their own pocket - known as "self-pay".

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This compared to 8,550 for the same nine-month period in 2019.

The number of admissions climbed slightly over the year, from 4,900 in January-March to 4,905 in April to June, and 4,960 in July to September.

HeraldScotland: Scotland and Wales, where private healthcare has traditionally be smaller and less used, have seen the biggest growth compared to pre-pandemic levelsScotland and Wales, where private healthcare has traditionally be smaller and less used, have seen the biggest growth compared to pre-pandemic levels (Image: PHIN)

There has been a much smaller increase in admissions among patients who are covered by private health insurance, although this still continues to slightly outnumber self-pay admissions.

In the third quarter of 2022, there were 5,855 admissions to private hospitals in Scotland for insured patients compared to 5,760 for the same period in 2019 - an increase of 2%.

In comparison to the UK average, where one in three admissions are 'self-pay' patients, in Scotland that figure is now 46%.

This reflects a traditionally lower uptake of private health insurance in Scotland, where the independent sector has been much smaller than in England.

HeraldScotland: UK-wide, self-pay admissions are beginning to fall - but in Scotland they rose slightly during 2022UK-wide, self-pay admissions are beginning to fall - but in Scotland they rose slightly during 2022 (Image: PHIN)

However, people with pre-existing conditions - such as joint problems - would be unable to take out health insurance as a new patient in order to cover procedures such as a hip replacement, which cost around £12,500.

As a result, anyone wanting to go private to avoid NHS waiting times would be required to pay in full.

READ MORE: Is two-tier healthcare now inevitable? 

It comes amid reports this week that some Scots are travelling to clinics overseas, including Lithuania, in order to get private surgery more cheaply.

Separate statistics also published today also show that, by the end of January, there were 1,122 people on waiting lists in England who had been waiting two years or more for elective hospital treatment on the NHS.

This compares to a figure of 6,856 people in Scotland by the end of December 2022, despite England having ten times the population size.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said self-pay admissions to the independent sector are around 11% higher per head of population in England than Scotland, and 37% higher per head in Wales.

HeraldScotland: UK-wide, joint surgery is in particularly high demand in private hospitalsUK-wide, joint surgery is in particularly high demand in private hospitals (Image: PHIN)

The private admissions data, published by the Private Healthcare Information Network, shows that hip replacements, knee replacements, therapeutic colonoscopies, cataract surgery and diagnostic colonoscopies were the five most common procedures carried out by the independent sector, UK-wide, in July to September last year.

Hip replacement numbers have increased by 73% compared to pre-pandemic levels, with knee replacements up by 58%.

Despite the growing demand, however, the number of consultants UK-wide actively treating private patients has dipped slightly - from around 9000 a month in 2019 to around 8,500 in 2022.

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Glasgow GP and Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said the figures should be a "source of shame" for Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. 

He said: “His flimsy recovery plan has completely failed to remobilise critical frontline services and has left patients feeling they have no other option but to go private, even if it means raiding their savings or taking out loans. 

“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP government routinely spin figures to try to paint Scotland’s NHS as the best performing in the United Kingdom but the reality is far different when it comes to patients waiting more than two years.”

Professor Andrew Elder, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said an "open and honest" conversation is needed about the state of healthcare delivery. 

He added: "Future trends in self-funded care will essentially reflect the balance of demand and supply.

"The many medical advances we’ve seen in healthcare should be celebrated. Yet medical advancements also present the biggest challenge for the health service. 

"Can we really afford to provide everything that is available, for everybody, across their entire life course? And if we cannot, how should we decide what we can provide?"

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are working with NHS Boards to end long waits, which have been exacerbated by the impacts of the global pandemic.

"This includes targets announced in July to address the backlog of planned care in our NHS and the delivery of the £1 billion NHS Recovery Plan to support sustainable improvements and new models of care like the National Treatment Centre Programme.

“We have four NTCs due to open this year in NHS Fife, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Highland and the second phase of the NHS Golden Jubilee, which will provide significant additional capacity for orthopaedics, ophthalmic and diagnostic treatment."