Private Healthcare in London

The recent upheaval caused by the Government's proposed changes to the publically provided NHS healthcare sector has left many wondering if it has a future. Some have begun to turn to the private sector and that has created a spurt of growth in recent years. Indeed, a report by 'Keynote' published in 2010, suggested that whilst the sector was worth almost £29 billion in 2009, it is destined to grow by up to 24% in the period up to 2014 and that this may grow even further if the overall economic health of the country improves.

If the value of the overall health sector is growing and the public sector provision is under question (the total UK health 'bill' is anticipated to be in excess of £170bn), does this suggest that the emphasis is now firmly focused on people paying for services that have, traditionally, been delivered as free? This could be an indicator that the cost of healthcare provision is increasing faster than the economy.

The number of private hospitals, clinics and surgeries across the UK shows a sector that is robust, with more than seventy such private facilities in Greater London and, that this level shows no sign of abating. Research indicates that the total number of private hospitals and clinics sits at around 183 for the UK and 23 in London and that this compares very favourably with any public sector provision, despite the disparity in total costs. These are classed as 'bedded' hospitals with facilities for overnight or longer stay provision. Six private facilities are listed within the area close to Harley Street. This contrasts with the 'Harley Street Guide' that lists some 1,000 or more specialists with private clinics who practice in the immediate locale.

The range of health services on offer is vast and varied with almost every speciality being catered for, from fertility to obesity, oncology to cosmetic surgery. Turning to specific strands of healthcare: there are sixty clinics listed who offer specialist private cosmetic surgery within 25 miles of Central London, half a dozen of whom are located in and around Harley Street itself. In respect to another highly visual aspect of health - dentistry and orthodontics, Harley Street plays host to 26 clinics and one hundred registered practitioners.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report published in 2010, that the proportion of practising physicians within the UK had grown by some 35% (from two per thousand to 2.7) combined by a lower level of growth in nursing staff of around 11% in the same period. Conversely the numbers of beds per head has declined and the OECD puts this down to the growth of same-day treatments and an overall reduction in the periods of stay within hospital environments.

The current healthcare debate within Government may find the changes driving more business towards the elective sector of the private market as, if the review is successful, the onus is put onto GPs and local healthcare professionals to manage budgets and to improve the speed at which patients are seen.

Whilst, in overall terms, the proportions of expenditure for private health care versus public expenditure has not changed dramatically over the past decade or so, the environment in which healthcare is being provided has with the growth of private health schemes.