No summer slowdown in private health sector, says Healthcode

Published: Tuesday, 15 September 2020 09:00

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Parts of the private healthcare sector have now returned to pre-lockdown levels of treatment and hospital patient numbers, according to the latest data from Healthcode, which has recorded a rise in insurer-funded activity across the sector during the summer months.

As the UK’s official clearing organisation for private medical bills, Healthcode have been analysing transaction data on behalf of the independent healthcare sector and publish their headline findings each month. The aim is to chart the recovery across the sector and highlight variations between different regions and specialties.

August 2020 saw insurer-funded activity in the sector reach 74% of the level achieved in August 2019, while some specialties even exceeded their previous year’s performance. This is the third consecutive monthly rise in sector activity from a low of 29% in May which represents an average increase of 15 percentage points per month.

This month, Healthcode have also compared the number of unique patients receiving hospital treatment with the same month of 2019. In June, this stood at just 25% for admitted patients and 41% for outpatients but by August this had reached 67% for admitted patients and 77% for outpatients.

Commenting on the August figures, Peter Connor, Healthcode Managing Director, said: “Healthcode’s data processing role puts us in a privileged position of being able to document the sector’s recovery from the darkest days of the pandemic. Not only have we recorded a rise in activity levels over the summer but insurer pre-authorisation rates are now reaching pre-pandemic levels too.

“Of course, I appreciate this picture is not the same for everyone because we continue to see significant variations in the rate of recovery between regions, specialties and hospitals. Healthcode has therefore started working with hospital groups to help them understand and benchmark their activity and we will continue to do all we can to support the sector.

“Overall, the outlook remains positive and I think we can all be proud of the way that private healthcare providers have shown the grit and determination to bounce back.”
The headlines from Healthcode’s August analysis follow:

Countries and regions

  • In August 2020, England operated at 74% the level of 2019 while Scotland reached 61%, Wales 54% and Northern Ireland 88%. The equivalent figures in July 2020 were 59% for England, 44% for Scotland, 32% in Wales and 82% in Northern Ireland.
  • London, traditionally a strong centre for private healthcare, achieved 78% of the activity level seen during August 2019, a 13-point rise on the July percentage. Elsewhere, the East and West Midlands regions have shown the strongest recovery with activity at 89% and 84% of 2019 levels (compared with 63% and 65% in July). Every region in the UK has now passed the 50% activity landmark.

Hospital specialties

  • Orthopaedics is a traditionally strong private specialty which had been hit hard by the lockdown restrictions. However, it reached 70% of 2019 activity levels in August, compared with only 49% in July, a 21-percentage point increase.
  • All of the top ten specialties were much closer to the activity levels seen last year 2919 with two actually surpassing the August 2019 figure. These were Oncology (106%) and Pathology/Haematology (110%). The specialties with the lowest proportion of 2019 activity levels were physiotherapy (48%) and ENT (64%) but both were up on July (29% and 41% respectively).


Care setting

  • Hospital activity in August reached 77% of 2019 levels, compared with 56% in July, while non-hospital activity was at 76% (68% in July). Within hospital settings, outpatient activity is up to 79% of 2019 levels while admitted care is at 68%. This compares with 58% for outpatient care and 46% for admitted care in July.
  • As stated above, the number of hospital patients has rose in August as more people have been referred and able to access care. While Healthcode saw the same positive trend for both admitted and outpatients, admitted care has bounced back particularly strongly (67% of 2019 levels in August compared with 27% in July).