Competition Commission: Private patients pay too much

Medical team operating Many private hospitals face little competition locally, the Competition Commission says

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Most patients in UK private hospitals are paying more than they should for treatment because of a lack of local competition, an inquiry has found.

More than 100 private hospitals around the country are in areas with little rival healthcare provision, says the Competition Commission (CC).

Many of these hospitals are owned by three major groups, the CC said.

It said the buying power of health insurance firms did not offset the hospitals' strong position.

About 80% of private patients fund their treatment through medical insurance, which is often paid for by their employers.

Although prices charged by operators to insurers are set nationally, the commission said it believed that the lack of local choice pushed up premiums for all patients, because insurers had no option but to use the local hospital.

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The commission's proposed reforms seem designed to give the insurers more muscle”

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"The lack of competition in the healthcare market at a local level means that most private patients are paying more than they should, either for private medical insurance or for self-funded treatment," said the commission's chairman, Roger Witcomb.

"The lack of available and comparable information, often less than is available to NHS patients, also makes informed choices - which could help drive competition - for these patients difficult."

'Market power'

Hospital groups BMI, Spire and HCA had been "earning returns substantially and persistently in excess of the cost of capital", the commission said.

The two biggest health insurance firms, Bupa and AXA PPP, had achieved "significantly lower prices than the smaller insurers" and had "some countervailing buyer power, Bupa more than AXA PPP".

"However, no insurer has countervailing buyer power that can fully offset the market power of BMI, Spire and HCA," the commission's provisional findings said.

The commission recommended moves to make more information available about the quality of hospitals' services and the level of fees charged by consultants.

It also suggested that operators owning a cluster of hospitals in one area should have to sell off some of them.

Responding to the commission, BMI said its findings were "based on flawed analyses of the reality of providing high quality private healthcare".

"We reject absolutely any assertion that BMI Healthcare and its hospitals exercise market power or that we make excess profits at the expense of patients.

"The vast majority of BMI's 69 facilities, in a UK market with over 500 rival facilities, face very significant local competition from other private hospitals and, increasingly, from the NHS."

Spire chief executive Rob Roger said the findings were "based on an unrealistic assessment of the markets in which we operate", while HCA said it was "disappointed that quality of clinical care and investment in innovation seems to have been ignored by the Competition Commission".

For its part, Bupa welcomed the findings as "good news for patients".

Managing director Damien Marmion said: "Millions of people with health insurance rightly expect high-quality healthcare for an affordable price.

"By tackling the lack of competition that has damaged the sector for too long, the commission has understood the need for strong action and has put patients first."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    I agree that there is too little competition in the healthcare market, but I don't think there are many factors that have been missed out this debate.

    People often have a sense of loyalty to their local hospital and are therefore reluctant to shop around. And my local private hospital is run on a not-for-profit basis, so it's difficult to say if patients are getting a raw deal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    paying too much for private cover!!!! WE HAVE AN NHS USE THAT AND NO ONE WILL BE RIPPED OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    Are we supposed to feel sorry for the toffs because they are paying too much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    Good news- regulatory bodies do work and protect the public.
    Bad news- that's if you live in France or `Germany, but not UK.
    so health, electricity etc. = rip off.
    And why not adopt the French-German idea of private health care that's 100% state funded. Then there's no two tier system, nobody excluded as in USA, and no stifling bureaucracy as UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    AfA @573
    Qualifications needed

    BBC 400-character-limit should be only for trivial issues

    On war & peace, NHS & privatisation, etc., 400-ch risks dumbing-down, polarisation & public deterrence from engagement in debate

    With informed & agreed Equal Partnership, doctors as well as others would be secure in themselves, AND for their families, friends & all others, free to compete to be their best

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    Post-war Old Labour secured for ordinary people access to medical diagnosis & treatment

    Hobbled by doctors, private practice dictating conflict of interest in clinical & political leaders, inadequate address of overload & queuing led to recurrent widening scandal

    Confidence dented, morale drained, NHS patients become distractions from private practice, cheating doctors of fees


  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    The Tories, their Bosses in America and Izrael, want to dismantle the NHS, and introduce a private healthcare system like America's in the UK.
    It doesn't matter what people say on this forum, they will push on with their plans regardless.
    Like Syria, truth and commonsense are not considered when advancing their agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    Its highly likely that the bbc are manipulating HYS voting.
    Its highly likely that the bbc are a biased.
    Its highly likely that I will not renew my BBC licence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    I do not understand why NHS users dislike private medicine (alongside the NHS). If rich people want to pay for services, convenience and luxury the NHS does not provide that only affects the rest of us in a positive way. It reduces the burden on the NHS and stops our best clinicians being attracted to the USA.

    The only downside to the rest of us is the green eyed monster rearing it's head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    To the pro-privatisation brigade. Sorry but surely the point of the health service is to treat illness and save lives, not become a money spinner. Privatisation might be good in some circumstances but paying more dosen't necessarily mean you get more, look at utilities and the railways. True you get treated a bit quicker but only if you can afford it, not everyone in the UK can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    567. Rupert Rols

    If some one is spending £100 a week on junk food, how much tax are they paying ?

    And, in reality, how much does a 'stent' or bypass ACTUALLY cost.

    Blood pressure, blood thinners and diabetic meds must be the cheapest drugs as so many take them. You would think . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    I know a cardiologist who is quite bored with her job. Why?

    Most of her week is filled up inserting stents and 'cleaning out' clogged arteries.

    Too much extra work, she said, is being caused by overeaters.

    Cancers, osteo-arthitis heart disease and diabetes. Many cases caused by folks own daftness and laziness. Genuine cases i.e children, have to wait longer.
    Very sad .

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    I worked in a private hospital many decades ago. Most op's (i was in theatres' were Ent, orthopaedics;replacements, cosmetic plastic, cataracts an basic gynae plus wisdom teeth. The vast majority were insured folks through workplaces. Few were 100% self-paying.
    Most, in my opinion went for the private room and uniformed nurses and the attention. Like private travel/ banking !

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    549.Recall Tian Square
    Private Health may be a small % but it takes some burden off the overstretched NHS.

    I'd agree if the NHS and private services were totally seperate. All to often the surgeon doing your operation privately is the same surgeon who would have done it on th NHS if you'd waited in the queue. Queue jumping does not ease the burden on the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    I too have this system where I live - we pay taxes proportional to income and the jobless are looked after - it's called the NHS!! The problem is health tourists and immigrants who pay nothing in are abusing the system so there is nothing for those who have contributed and are in need of treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    562. Rupert Rols

    You are free to use private health care.

    The question you should be asking is: What reduction in tax can I expect if privatisation goes ahead ?

    None. Because privatisation is being dragged out in stealth fashion until division and multicultural society project is complete. . and tax break will be a corporate tax break for London multinationals.

    Not for middle class Tory voter

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    Medicine has it's own 'union' or 'cartel'. Doctors are 'Establishment' like lawyers. Their unions have their little book of fees and no-one questions them. Very strange.

    Strange that telecom/ energy companies and oil companies have to be seen to be 'competitive though and the rest of us have to slashour prices in recesions. Even my (private )dentist cut his prices last year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    I don't think private patients can pay too much. They're helping the Torys to destroy the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    559. godmac

    ' People feel they have no choice to pay private no matter the cost. '

    What ever are you talking about ? People choose private because of some throw away propaganda article about food in hospitals ?

    What claptrap.

    Why not just get the family to bring a bag of Waitrose food in the NHS hospital if you think it's that bad ?

    US are determined to destroy the NHS and UK will let them

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    The problem is the misappropriation of NHS funds; lengthy methadone programs, GP practice managers, alcohol & drug abuse, etc. The knock on effect is that some patients who are really needy are having to wait for treatment and once they get to hospital they are fed pig swill. Serve patients prison food and prisoners hospital food. People feel they have no choice to pay private no matter the cost.


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