Private Healthcare sector addressing pent-up demand

Published: Wednesday, 14 October 2020 09:00

electronic billingActivity levels in parts of the private healthcare sector are now higher than in 2019, according to the latest snapshot of insurer-funded activity by Healthcode. Amid concerns about the impact of the pandemic on health provision, the data suggests that private providers are dealing with a build-up in demand for hospital treatment.

In September 2020, insurer-funded activity across the sector was 93% of the level achieved in September 2019, up nearly 20 percentage points compared with August (74%). Analysis of billing transaction data by Healthcode, the official clearing organisation for the private health sector, also showed that the operating percentage in some regions and specialties was above that of 2019, showing that providers had stepped-up activity since lockdown restrictions were first eased. For example, activity within the pathology/haematology was 28% higher in September than in the same month of 2019, while radiology was up by 24%.

While other parts of the Sector were not yet operating at 2019 levels, Healthcode’s Managing Director, Peter Connor, believes that the overall trend is in the right direction for sustained recovery. He commented: “Since we began to publish this insured activity data in June, we have been struck each month by the determination of private sector providers to bounce back. I’m sure those patients who had deferred seeking medical advice because of lockdown will be relieved that they can now access the consultations or treatment they need.

“The NHS has never been under greater strain, facing an increase in Covid hospitalisations and lengthening waiting lists for elective treatments. In this context, a strong private healthcare sector will have an important role to play in supporting the NHS and delivering high quality care to all patients in need, however they are funded.”

Here are the main headlines from September:

Countries and regions

  • Operating percentages were up again in all UK countries last month. England recorded 93% of 2019 level (compared with 74% in August); Scotland was at 84% (up from 61% in August); Northern Ireland achieved 114% (88% in August) and Wales reached 71% (up from 54% in August).
  • Regionally, The East Midlands posted the strongest comeback in September (104% of 2019 activity, up from 89% in August). Meanwhile, London was back to 99% of last year’s activity (compared with 78% in August) and the North-West was at 98% (76% in August). Operating percentages in every English region are above 80% of 2019 levels.

Hospital specialties

  • Four of the top ten hospital specialties are now exceeding the activity level achieved in 2019. In September, the year-on-year operating percentage was 128% for pathology/haematology, 124% for radiology, 112% for oncology and 104% for general surgery.
  • Two hospital specialties that were hardest hit by lockdown have recovered strongly. From an operating percentage of only 12% of 2019 levels in May, Orthopaedics was back at 91% in September. Similarly, ENT reached 89% of 2019 activity in September, compared with a low of 10% in May. This also represented significant improvement on last month’s operating percentage (Orthopaedics was up 21 percentage points from 70% in August while ENT was up 25 percentage points from 64% in August)

Care setting

  • Hospital activity in September reached 95% of 2019 levels, compared with 77% in August. Within hospital settings, outpatient activity is up to 98% of 2019 levels while admitted care is at 84%. This compares with 79% for outpatient care and 68% for admitted care last month.
  • Patient numbers in private hospitals are close to pre-Covid levels. Last month, out-patients were 95% and in-patients were 82% of the numbers treated in September 2019 (the equivalent in August was 77% and 67% respectively).