Private hospital admissions are rising faster in Scotland than any other part of the UK, driven by a surge in people funding treatment via insurance.

The latest statistics from the Private Healthcare Insurance Network (PHIN), the independent organisation which provides data on the sector, found that there had been a 12.3% in admissions in Scotland year-on-year during January to March.

This compared to 9.2% in Wales, 7.9% in England, and 5.6% in Northern Ireland.

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A total of 11,215 in Scotland were admitted to private hospitals for treatment which was paid for via healthcare insurance or 'self-funded', where the patient covers the costs directly.

This was up from 9,990 in January to March 2022, but the bulk of the increase was driven by a spike in insured patients - up by 23%, from 5,090 to 6,255.

Per head of population, roughly one in every 486 people in Scotland were admitted to a private hospital last year for a self-funded or insurance-funded procedure, compared to one per 275 in England. 

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The Herald: Year-on-year changes in private healthcare admissions for insured and self-pay patients in the devolved nationsYear-on-year changes in private healthcare admissions for insured and self-pay patients in the devolved nations (Image: Private Healthcare Information Network)

Uptake of private medical insurance cover has traditionally been much lower in Scotland compared to England. 

There was a much smaller increase - just 1.2% - in people funding treatment from their own pockets, increasing in Scotland from 4,900 to 4,960.

In England, insured admissions rose by 13% and self-pay admissions fell by 3.2%.

However, the statistics do not include private hospital admissions where the referral is being paid for by the NHS - for example to clear waiting list backlogs. NHS England has targets to increase its use of the independent sector.

Per head of population, one in every 486 people in Scotland 

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UK-wide, PHIN said that the number of admissions paid for with private medical insurance has "reached record levels" which "reflects the increased take up reported by insurers".

The most common procedures carried out privately on insured or self-paying patients are cataract surgery, diagnostic colonoscopies and endoscopies, epidural injections, hip replacements, hernia repairs, and knee surgery.

It comes days after the latest figures for Scotland revealed that there are 6,891 people on waiting lists for inpatient or day case treatment on NHS Scotland who have been waiting for over two years - including nearly 1,600 waiting more than three years.

A separate report on Tuesday from Public Health Scotland noted that the private sector in Scotland is now carrying out more hip and knee arthroplasties - joint replacements and repairs - than any single health board.

According to the audit, private hospitals carried out 4,604 of these operations in 2022. Of these, 94.5% were insured or self-funded patients, with the remainder NHS-funded patients.

Writing in the report, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Mr Phil Walmsley - chair of the Scottish Arthroplasty Project - said that the proportion of NHS patients getting joint surgery in the private sector is "decreasing" although NHS activity remains "significantly below pre-pandemic levels".

He added: "All NHS boards across Scotland are working hard to resume full activity for elective arthroplasty.

"However, the backlog of procedures from the pandemic continues to have an effect.

"Some NHS Boards are managing a return towards pre-pandemic activity more successfully than others."

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Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie accused the NHS of overseeing "creeping privatisation".

She said: “The SNP’s disastrous mismanagement of our NHS has created a two-tier healthcare system in Scotland.

“People are being forced to find money for private treatment during the worst cost of living crisis in decades simply to avoid living in agony waiting for treatment, while many others don’t even have that option."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it is "committed to eradicating long waits" and that 57% of inpatient/day case specialties now have fewer than ten patients waiting more than two years.

She added: “The number of Arthroplasty operations are beginning to improve towards pre-pandemic levels; in 2022, there were 11,175 first hip or knee replacements performed in Scotland compared to 8,568 in 2021.

“Through maximising capacity and redesigning services of care we are committed to delivering year on year reductions, with National Treatment Centres providing significant additional capacity for orthopaedics, ophthalmic and diagnostic activity.”