Why employers should consider private medical cover for non-urgent treatment
In recent years, the NHS has struggled under an increasing burden caused by a lack of investment, staffing issue and deterioration in public health. Chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are adding considerable financial pressure to the system, which is leading to considerable challenges for healthcare provision in the UK.
In January, respondents to YouGov’s monthly poll on ‘How good or bad are national NHS services’ reached a record level of dissatisfaction with 71% rating NHS services ‘bad’ compared with just 20% who thought they were good.
In the years since the Covid-19 pandemic, the waiting list for hospital treatment in England has swelled to more than 7 million and the 18-week treatment target has not been met since 2016, latest statistics show. Meanwhile, around 362,500 patients have been waiting over a year for treatment – which is around 169 times the number of people waiting over a year in February 2020.
It’s not just hospitals that are struggling. GPs are having to deal with more appointments than ever before, with 29.5 million recorded in January alone, 11% more appointments per working day than in January 2020 before the pandemic.
Furthermore, dentist availability has been falling as many cut back on NHS dental work over longstanding contract issues that act as a disincentive to treat non-private patients and, as a result, are adding more private patients to their books, according to a recent survey of general dental practitioners in England by the British Dental Association (BDA): 74% of those surveyed report an intention to reduce, or further reduce, the amount of NHS work they undertake this year and 43% indicate they are likely to go fully private. As a result, there have been considerable delays for dentist access. Further BDA analysis, for example, found that the unmet need for dentistry in England stood at 11 million people. Six million had tried and failed to secure an appointment in the past two years and just under 4 million hadn’t even tried to get an appointment under the assumption they would be unable to secure one. In some cases, this has pushed people to take more drastic measures. In a Yougov survey, one in 10 respondents said they had carried out their own dental work. Over time, we should expect the availability of NHS dentistry to continue to reduce. This will leave a gap in dental care that employers could fill through the provision of private dental cover for their staff.
Meanwhile, inflation and the cost-of-living crisis has added a further dimension to issues at the NHS, as several strikes by different groups of staff essential for running the UK’s hospitals and primary care have added to its woes.
And there is also thought to be a “hidden backlog” of patients that have either not presented or had referrals cancelled due to the lingering impact of the pandemic, which could be storing up problems further down the line.
The many challenges the NHS faces means companies face a growing risk that their employees might not be able to get the help they need, when they need it, which may cause businesses longer-term problems, such as increased levels of sickness and absenteeism across the workforce, and reduction in productivity.
Given the challenges facing the NHS, there has been increased appetite for private medical insurance cover. In April, YouGov reported that one-in-eight Britons (13%) had used private healthcare in the previous 12 months and 27% had considered it but decided against it based on financial grounds.
Interest in private medical insurance cover is also growing among employers. Indeed. Health and wellbeing is one of the top concerns influencing chief executives and chief financial officer decision-making, according to Mercer’s Health on Demand 2023 report. Reduced access to NHS services and longer waiting times pose a considerable risk to businesses due to the impact of absenteeism and presenteeism, where employees are attending work but being less productive.
More support for employees’ health
With long waiting times, companies are looking for more ways that private medical insurance can support their employees’ health challenges, particularly those that are work-related.
Our research into mental health at work found around half of surveyed employees (56.4%) suffer from at least one dimension of work-related stress, but just 11% said they would disclose their mental health challenges to managers.
And as the cost-of-living crisis continues to take a toll on household budgets, more employees may seek help for mental health conditions.
Mercer’s ‘Inside Employee Minds’ survey found enhanced employee assistance programmes, enhanced access to mental health providers and mental health apps were among the top actions or benefits that an employers could provide to support mental health and ease burnout.
Becoming a more mindful employer
Employers able to offer a benefits package that includes private medical cover are not only differentiating themselves from their peers but are also securing their future. Private medical care provision covers a range of people risks.
Critically, in a highly competitive hiring market where businesses are struggling to fill roles, we strongly believe an attractive benefits package is a value-add to employers. Those that embrace this will win the war on talent, and that’s something we can help with.
At Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB), we have a broad team of experienced specialists that can help clients of any size design solutions that meet their business needs and address the health and wellness needs of their employees. At MMB, we understand that managing employee health risks can have a positive impact on business performance and help create a happy, healthier workplace.