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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Would you pay for your healthcare?

A large percentage of the population say they would consider using private health care to skip lengthy NHS waiting lists.

Research by the Consumers' Association revealed that four in 10 people would think about going private to jump long queues, even though 84% of them had no private medical insurance to fall back on.

Though many people were happy with the treatment that they received from the NHS, nearly a third of those questioned said they did not believe there would be a free health service in a decade's time.

Do you have faith in the NHS or have you lost confidence in the service? Would you choose to go private rather than wait for treatment on the NHS?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The NHS should always be publicly funded so everyone shares the risk for all our citizens of serious illness

Colin Brown, Scotland
The NHS should always be publicly funded so everyone shares the risk for all our citizens of serious illness. But it's not being run as an insurance system, albeit national-scale. The free access is abused massively for trivial conditions. Will any government ever advise its citizens of the proper use of a "Health" service? If not, it must be taken out of politics and run by non-political organisations as happens in every other advanced country.
Colin Brown, Scotland

I'd pay for private health care if I could be sure I would always be covered. The problem with the current system in the UK is that there are too many exclusion clauses in the policies. If you have been sick before, ever had an operation or are over a certain age the premium is sky high. At least with the NHS the healthcare is provided based on your need, rather than on how likely you are to claim and if they can make a profit out of you.
Keith Burton, UK

We do pay for healthcare through ridiculously high taxes and national insurance. Cut the taxes by the appropriate amount and I will sort out my own healthcare with insurance. I am sick of paying good money in taxes and being told by my GP I have to wait FIVE days for an appointment.
Ken Holland, England

I agree that the NHS has to change, but I don't think the US system would be any better. We may not have the long waiting lists for routine medical procedures, but we have to deal with penny pinching insurance companies. They love collecting the money from us but hate having to pay the hospitals and doctors for the treatment received. It is extremely frustrating having to justify to someone who obviously does not have a medical degree why the doctor recommended a particular treatment, just because it costs more than the insurer wanted to pay.
Paula, US (ex UK)

What happened to the wasted 18/20 years during the 80s and 90s - it's a question no one wants to answer. Has anyone got the statistics on how many patients from private hospitals have to be rushed to an NHS Intensive-Care bed because of complications? There should be a lot more doctors, trained by the Taxpayer and with a 40-hour-week max - so that if some want to resign - let them!
Peter, UK

We can't decree where our taxes go or which institutions they fund

Steven Douglas, UK
We can't decree where our taxes go or which institutions they fund. The NHS has been in such a state of decrepitude for so long it is about time that something like this began to happen. Given the ever increasing costs of hospital treatments, how can the state fund a 100% free health service? It is an ideal, not an obtainable goal. Personally, if I didn't have to wait months for an operation or reside in a set from 'Only when I laugh' when I went in hospital, I would be happy to pay for increased service. I expect NHS staff would appreciate the extra money this might mean too.
Steven Douglas, UK

Having lived in a number of EU countries and two Asian countries over the last 13 years, I feel that a non-refundable charge of 5 for benefit claimants or 10 for everyone else for a visit to the doctor would not be unreasonable. This would have the effect of clearing doctors' surgeries of the malingerers, and also bringing increased revenue to the NHS, which could be spent where it is really needed, on training more nurses for the UK's hospitals, and on giving them a decent wage.
P M Jones, S. Korea (ex-UK)

I've read numerous comparisons between the British and US systems, both of which are as bad as each other. In Spain, private healthcare is very affordable and as a consequence, take-up is high, leaving the state run hospitals to adequately care for those who need it. Walk into practically ANY hospital in Spain and it seems like a five-star hotel compared with your average NHS hospital. If Spain can do it, why can't we?
Mau, UK

Running a completely private, insurance or out-of-your-own-pocket health system is a disaster

Thomas, Dublin
Health and education are basic human rights of which personal wealth shall not be a determinant. Running a completely private, insurance or out-of-your-own-pocket health system is a disaster. There are always some people who have done an honest day's work and are just able to feed and clothe themselves and their families, and cannot afford penalising insurance premiums. Paying out of your own pocket can mean some people would not see their GPs until the disease is at an advanced stage. Who said there is no waiting list in private hospitals? It's just shorter as fewer people are rich enough. There are always waiting lists and dissatisfaction with public health care systems. Those on the Continent and in Scandinavia are not immune.
Thomas, Dublin

Here in Australia we have, in my experience, an unbelievable Public Hospital system. It seems to me that, instead of moaning about the UK NHS, do something about it. I understand the UK has general elections this year. You people instead of sitting on your hands should first of all find out who the Health and Shadow Health Ministers are and give them hell. Make it an "Election Issue", that the politicians remember for a long time. Remember, if these people are not elected, they are out of a job, it's as simple as that. It is a well known fact that the people only get the kind of government they deserve. People, the answer really is in your hands and for some unfortunate people, this really is a life and death situation. You only have a lousy NHS system, because YOU allowed it to happen. "Action overrides apathy." How's that for a bumper sticker?
David Butler, Australia

I really do resent my money being spent on operations and procedures that no-one would have dreamed of as being essential 60 years ago. Sex changes, cosmetic surgery etc are nowadays provided under the NHS at a cost per operation that would keep many hundreds of those of us who are actually paying for the NHS in primary healthcare for years. I admit that these things are relatively rare, but they are costly and treat just one person at a time. However, they do not help to achieve one of the NHS's aims which is to improve the general state of the population's health. Perhaps if things were prioritised and we went back to the NHS providing the level of healthcare that it was originally intended to provide, then many of us would not have to consider jumping the queues for "proper" or even life-saving operations. Alternatively I, and the many thousands of others who are paying 6-10 a month for prescription tablets that keep high blood pressure under control for example, would be able to avoid paying that additional fee on top of the massive amounts of tax and NIC that we pay already.
James Crosby, Telford, England

The medical profession is fed up with lies and bullying from the Government

Dr Tom Pearson, UK
Most consultant surgeons work at least 60 hours per week for the NHS, but their contract is for 35 hours only. So, they do not get a single penny for 30 hours overtime! Stopping them from doing private practice (in their own time), is going to make many of them leave the NHS and/ or the UK. Labour will try and hit doctors hard, but the medical profession is fed up with lies and bullying from the Government, who want to shift the blame for the NHS' failings on the one group who have kept it going. Expect Labour's popularity to fall in the next term as inexperienced Spanish doctors are shipped in to fill the vacancies!
Dr Tom Pearson, UK

Some of these comments make me angry. It seems we are becoming more selfish as time goes on! If we are in any way civilised, we should be all be paying to allow everyone an equal chance to be healthy, regardless of individual wealth. All this bickering about paying National Insurance contributions in the UK is ridiculous - it's going to cost us to be healthy one way or another. I realise the current system in the UK is in need of a re-think but to adopt an American-style private system would be an appalling backward step.
Richard G, UK

The USA has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, but many citizens do not have access (personal health insurance) as they are unemployed, their job does not provide insurance, or they simply cannot afford it. In the UK, the NHS provides healthcare to all of its citizens regardless of job status and personal income. This being true, citizens of the UK should count their blessings that they have healthcare regardless of their employment status.
Mike, USA (Anglophite)

You are paying for healthcare no matter how you look at it

Glen C, San Francisco, USA
Being a British citizen who has experienced the NHS and now a permanent US resident who has experienced the American healthcare system, there is absolutely no comparison between the two. You are paying for healthcare no matter how you look at it. You either pay the ridiculous taxes in the UK or pay for insurance in the US and have a much lower tax rate. Not to mention that the quality of care in the US far exceeds that in the UK. I hope I never have to experience the NHS again in my lifetime.
Glen C, San Francisco, USA

Driving through any of the countless council housing estates, it's obvious to see that people are more willing to pay for Sky dishes but not medical insurance. This is why I am unwilling to pay extra taxes for the NHS, Mr Desborough. I do not want to pay extra taxes for people who are incapable of looking after their own money sensibly!!
M.P. Marshall, England

I already pay a fortune in tax - including "national insurance" (where does this go?), income tax, VAT on nearly everything, the highest fuel tax in the universe, extortionate duty on alcohol, VAT on electricity and gas, Council tax, vehicle excise duty, TV licence fee - and now I'm being asked if I would be prepared to pay MORE? You must be joking, what exactly do I get for all this tax that I'm paying out now? The tax has never been higher and from what I can judge, the NHS has never been more sick.
Bill S, England

It's time we had a truly modern and universal private healthcare system

Michael Entill, UK
If the British people knew how poorly NHS healthcare compares with that available in the US, they would give up on it immediately. The NHS provides low-level care for everybody, but diseases that can be effectively treated in the US are ignored in the UK - the necessary medication simply isn't available. It's time we had a truly modern and universal private healthcare system.
Michael Entill, UK

Don't do it, folks. Here, we spend nearly twice as much per capita on health care as any other industrialized country, yet have the worst infant mortality rate and lowest average life expectancy - for both men and women - of any "first world" country. And God help you if you have some sort of pre-existing condition that might cost the insurers money.

It seems that some form of health care rationing is inevitable under any system. The question is whether you want to ration it by waiting list or by bank account; and whether you want any operating surplus to be used to improve the system, or simply channelled into shareholders' pockets.
Steve Genova, State of Oregon, US

If you're willing to pay extra for private healthcare, why aren't you willing to pay the extra money in tax to give EVERYONE a good service?
James Desborough, UK

Maybe the UK could copy Australia's Medicare?

Jonathan Bensley, Australia
Maybe the UK could copy Australia's Medicare? It seems to work brilliantly, and is fairly cheap. It brings together the best of the private sector with the best of the public sector.
Jonathan Bensley, Australia

What kind of question is that? You pay for healthcare whether it is public or private. When you pay for socialist healthcare via high taxes you simply surrender your discretion to an unaccountable bureaucrat. Socialist health care is based on the premise that people are incapable of managing their own money or lives.
J. Pete Tucker, USA

Why in the world would people want to pay out of their pockets for healthcare? I believe all governments in the world have a duty to pay for all medically necessary services and if this means that taxes are high so be it. I believe a publicly funded healthcare system is cheaper than a private one.
Scott, Canada

I recently had my first encounter with private medicine, after discovering that I would have to wait up to several months for an NHS consultancy. I ended up going to see the same fellow, (who could not fit me in for an NHS appointment), within a week of making a private booking. This was at a rate of 300 per hour. But what else could I do? Like anyone, when concerned over health, (it was potentially serious enough), I paid up despite not really being able to afford it. Private medicine while fantastic in its speed, is the modern day highwayman. "Your money or your life".
Adam, England

Turn private hospitals over to the NHS, and run the whole thing properly

Lynne, England
Yes the NHS as we know it will probably disappear. What concerns me is those who are unable to pay at all. Do we really want an American multi-tier system where those at the bottom suffer for years or die for lack of simple medications, never mind operations? Turn private hospitals over to the NHS, and run the whole thing properly. Do away with most of those pen pushers, make consultants work a full day for their ridiculous pay packets, and the whole face of healthcare in this country would improve dramatically!
Lynne, England

Why do Brits think that the only alternative to the NHS is private care? It's such an island mentality. Here on the mainland there are no hospital queues whatsoever. There is top equipment and care, and it's not private. Hospitals are profit-run organisations (so they always have enough beds, doctors and nurses, but health insurance is run by non-profit organisations. The cost is about the same as Brits pay for NI contributions, but this system actually works. Basic care is mostly covered, but extras must be paid for. People here are very happy with the system. Brits should stop looking to the past and to America, and take a look what their neighbours are doing.
Brian Jackson, Belgium (ex-pat)

The private sector currently does not pay for the training of skilled healthcare staff, does not provide much in the way of community/ primary care (where 86% of health treatment takes place) and does not offer an emergency service if you are in a life and death situation. That is why their premiums seem 'cheap' in comparison to funding the NHS. If we 'scrapped the NHS' as some here have suggested, who do you think will pick up the costs of all the above? Private care may well have a role in complementing the NHS but I hope it never replaces it.
Phil, UK

I would like to see a decrease in NI contributions and the introduction of compulsory self-funded healthcare as in America

Clare, UK
I would like to see a decrease in NI contributions and the introduction of compulsory self-funded healthcare as in America. However, I think the only exception to the rule should be OAPs who will probably have been paying taxes all their lives therefore qualifying them for free healthcare, and those unable to work due to disability and/or illness (and NOT those who simply won't work). I do not have private healthcare insurance but would gladly pay for any treatment needed in order to receive it within a matter of weeks, and not months or years.
Clare, UK

The answer is "No". I paid National Insurance all the time I was resident in the UK so why should I pay again? Also if people start taking out private health cover what support will there be for the NHS? The rich and/or the employed won't care. The Government, if it is anything like the present one will chase "Middle England" and the poor, elderly and unemployed will be left with a third rate service, despised by all and underfunded, a sort of health version of the Social Fund.
Andrew Street, Ireland (British subject)

I currently have private health insurance and this is taxed as a perk. If the Government was to give tax breaks for private health, more people would use it resulting in less strain on the NHS.
Tony C, UK

I am British, my wife is Dutch and we have lived in the Netherlands and the UK. In the Netherlands whenever we required medical treatment someone, somewhere, either us or our insurers had to pay a bill. Here in the UK my wife attends the local health centre and is treated for free. She does not come under the UK National Insurance system, has no reciprocal agreement with the Dutch health service, has no private insurance and has never been asked to pay a bill other than prescription charges. It is quite clear why the Dutch health service is so superior to our own. Over there someone, somewhere has to pay for all treatment given. The notion of a "free" health service is a nonsense.

I have no faith at all in the NHS. I'm happy to continue to pay for private health insurance, but I find it absolutely disgraceful that I have to pay towards the NHS at the same time. I worked in the NHS recently and eventually left. I could not bear seeing the shoddy treatment that the patients were given, especially the elderly.
Silvie, UK

The limitations of health care in this country aren't going to be improved overnight simply by increasing expenditure. More money, whether private or public, doesn't cause more doctors to materialise out of nowhere. In such a case private medicine simply gives those that pay privileged access directly at the expense of NHS patients.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

We don't need any more resources we just need those we have to be managed properly

Nick, UK
I also work for the NHS as a nurse. We don't need any more resources we just need those we have to be managed properly. That is the biggest problem with the NHS today, inefficient wasteful management of resources.

For example, the other night I went into a store room to find about 20 monitoring systems lying around having just been replaced for newer models. There was nothing wrong with them, they worked perfectly well. But they will just lie there to rot, like so many other tens of thousands of pieces of equipment that belongs to the NHS. Until there is a change in the style and thinking processes of senior management there will never be any change in the NHS. They ultimately hold the purse strings.

The only tangible results of increased spending that I have seen over the past few years has been the improvement in the quality of automobiles in the Trust board's car park. Says it all really.
Nick, UK

As several writers have already pointed we are all paying for the NHS yet each year what we receive gets less and less. I now have to pay for my dental treatment and yet when I first started to pay taxes and NI it was free. We are being ripped of by both the main parties and I am sure the Lib-Dems would be no different. I would be happy to pay for private treatment as long as I could reduce the payments I am already making for a service which I am not receiving. The problem with the NHS is not the amount of money that it gets but how that is used.
Bob, UK

Private healthcare does not have to mean selective healthcare. If you look at current insurance prices, which are about 10 a month, and compare that with the amount of tax each of us pay into the NHS the sums don't add up. Isn't it about time the Government paid healthcare insurance contributions on behalf of each member of the population and leave the running to the more efficient private sector?
Daniel Scarfe, UK

The NHS needs to be more ruthless. As anyone who has ever been to an A&E department will know, the vast majority of people in that waiting room should be seeing a GP, for sore throats, headaches, sore fingers etc. The staff should have the authority to turn the time-wasters away, so people in real pain don't have to wait for 4 hours to see the only doctor on duty.
Jez, UK

Yes I would be prepared to pay for healthcare, as long as there was some form of incentive from the Government to do so - tax relief etc.
Andy Allan, UK

Stop whining - count your blessings and be thankful for what you have. Try living here where insurance rates are sky high as are the costs of health care. $25 for one common pain killer. Be thankful you're not being fleeced.
Paul Walmsley, USA (Ex-Pat)

The NHS will never be able to provide speedy and all-encompassing health care free for all, because it will never be possible to pay for it. The sooner all political parties admit this, the better. People have to learn to provide for themselves through health insurance and through taking better care of themselves. Just think, if all the money that was spent on cigarettes went towards health-care, what kind of an improvement would we see?
Michele Bailey, Belgium (UK citizen)

Much of our frustration is about our overblown expectations

Paul Bridle, UK
I am in favour of the NHS. I pay for the health care I may need via my taxes and if I never need to use it I am only too happy for my contribution to benefit those who do need it. Sadly the health service will never have enough to satisfy all needs so there will always be frustration. Much of our frustration is about our overblown expectations, especially of others. I think we can all expect perfection from others which we ourselves cannot measure up to.
Paul Bridle, UK

I would like to suggest to all the Brits that they be careful of what they wish for - they may get it. Your NHS may not be very good from your point of view but understand that under the American system if you don't have health insurance you basically don't have any healthcare!
Gail, Alaska, USA

The government should scrap the NHS. Everyone should have private insurance. Taxes on the insurance would allow the Government to sponsor people who can't afford medical insurance. That way, the Government would be in charge of regulating and part funding, but not running, a health service. Under such circumstances, I'd be more than happy to pay.
Edward, UK

I have only respect and admiration for the doctors and nurses of the NHS, 32 years ago they saved my life, the care and attention 24 hours a day for 6 months was the best in the world. A colleague had a minor surgical procedure carried out at a well known private hospital as a day patient, he was found in his private room some three hours after the procedure dehydrated and in a great deal of discomfort. Previous governments have closed teaching hospitals for doctors, dentists and nurses, with what motive?
Ian S, UK

I don't have a problem paying for private healthcare. I appreciate that the NHS is in a sorry state and, being in the position where I can pay for it, I'm happy to do so in order to reduce the strain on the service. What I find incomprehensible is the taxation of such. I still pay NI, I pay extra in order to have private health cover and yet I'm taxed for it. Maybe "incentive" is defined differently in the House of Commons dictionary?
Dave Neal, GB

I might consider private treatment for something non-life-threatening if I were otherwise healthy. But when something goes wrong, private simply isn't good enough for me.
Lee, UK

Let everyone contribute to the health service according to their means

Eric Alter, UK
Why free healthcare for all? Let everyone contribute to the health service according to their means. Those earning over a certain income would continue to contribute but also have to take out private healthcare. Private and NHS hospitals should then merge into one. Result: end of healthcare lottery, more money in the system, end to 'snobbery' of private healthcare, lower private insurance premiums due to more contributors, more money in the NHS because there will be a better allocation of scarce resources. Oh and before people complain about the 'double contribution', do those that send their children to private schools pay less community charge or tax? No. It works in Holland, so why not here?
Eric Alter, UK

I work in the NHS as a consultant. I have to approve requests for ultrasound examinations, and try to prioritise them in order of urgency. Our ultrasound waiting time is about 12 weeks for routine studies (better than some). I consider it intolerable that people should have to wait so long for a simple diagnostic test in a first world country at the start of the 21st century. The lack of accessibility is one of the NHS's most serious and unacceptable failings. Should I need an ultrasound scan myself, I would refuse to wait as long as most people seem willing to do; and if I could not expedite the examination through the NHS I would go private. If NHS staff were paid a proper rate for the actual work that they do, one might also be surprised at the dramatic rise in productivity that would result. We get what we pay for, and what we are paying at present is insufficient to sustain the level of service that the people now demand.
Malcolm, UK

I would consider going private, particularly if my condition carried the risk of severe deterioration during a lengthy wait on the NHS. I believe the majority of NHS staff do an amazing job, and people need to take more responsibility for their own health. People who chain smoke, gorge themselves on food all day, and take no exercise should stop blaming the doctors, the nurses or the government. Healthcare is expensive. Who pays for this care? We all do. Let's do our part to make it better.
Frank, UK

I have private medical insurance so it's not a problem for me

John B, UK
I have private medical insurance so it's not a problem for me. It does seem typical of this government that having paid taxes on the pretence of getting services we now have to pay again to actually receive the service.
John B, UK

It would depend on what treatment I needed and how urgently I needed it, but it's certainly not out of the question. After all, people put aside money to pay for their homes, their holidays, their pensions, their children's education and so on. Why should their healthcare be any different?
Hugh, UK

I already have health insurance, it's called 6% of my gross earnings on National Insurance, which includes the NHS.
Bob, UK

As an MS sufferer, the only way I can get treatment to slow the course of the disease down is to pay for it myself

John, UK
What a question. As a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, the only way I can get treatment to slow the course of the disease down is to pay for it myself at 512 a month. In the UK we are led to believe that the NHS will always look after us if we are ill. It demonstrably in some cases does not and as such the social contract with UK citizens is broken. This needs publicising as most people do not realise it and without appropriate medical insurance you will be consigned to the scrap heap.
John, UK

I had a problem about a year ago and I needed an X-ray. I could have waited 6 WEEKS on the NHS or ONLY 4 DAYS if I went private. I did use the private hospital, paid 250 and received excellent service. I seriously doubt that the NHS can provide such a simple and routine service. If the NHS can't even do X-rays quickly, then what hope is there for the many other services they 'provide'? Needless to say I now have private healthcare and a lot less worry in my life. It seems it's like buying a car on the Internet - you'll get it cheaper but you'll have to wait (and wait and wait...)
Paul, UK

I thought I was already paying for my healthcare through National Insurance? Or am I just paying for tiers of unnecessary Tory-generated, NHS middle-management bean-counters and the refurbishment of the offices from which they announce cuts and rationing ?
Bill, UK

I say, scrap the NHS and we'll all go private

John Messeter, Scotland
Yes I would. I pay almost 100 into national insurance per month for this pitiful service. Some elderly people have paid all their lives into the NHS but when they need an operation they're put on to a waiting list or told, "You're too old". If they paid into private care, they could get the same operation in days, not years. This would also stop people from going to doctors when they don't need to. I say, scrap the NHS and we'll all go private.
John Messeter, Scotland

I think it is almost a necessity nowadays to get vital things done. Within 10 years, our hospitals will probably have to go along the same lines as those in the US: private, paid for by the patient and not free. There's just not enough money coming in to fund everything, which is why the rise in health insurance is surely going to continue...
Mat Allen, UK

It isn't the service itself that we have lost confidence in - it is the amount of time you need to wait to actually receive some medical care. I would love to opt out of the NHS totally, and put my National Insurance, tax and some extra towards Private Healthcare.
Alan Ashcroft, UK

The government should make the provision of private health care by a company or individual be offset against personal tax, rather than charged as a taxable benefit as at present. This would make private provision more popular and reduce the burden on the NHS.
Chris K, England

What are we paying our taxes for?

Rob H , UK
What are we paying our taxes for? If people can afford to pay for private healthcare (I know it's not cheap), perhaps they can pay a little extra to help put the NHS back on its feet again.
Rob H , UK

We in Singapore have to pay for our own health insurance if we are unemployed.
Alice Ee, Singapore

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20 May 01 | Health
Nurses doubt future of 'free' NHS

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