Private healthcare prices becoming more transparent but further progress needed, warns PHIN

Private healthcare prices revealed

New information on private healthcare prices published by the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) will help patients to compare medical fees before seeking treatment, including regional differences in price. However, PHIN also warns that medical fees are just one part of the total price of private healthcare, and that work remains to bring full transparency to fees and charges for patients.

Approximately one in four private healthcare procedures in the UK are people paying for their own treatment (self-pay), which is around 200,000 procedures per year. The other 75% are covered by private medical insurance.

Consultants had to disclose their fees for self-pay patients after a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation found that the lack of transparency was unfair to consumers. PHIN was appointed by CMA to collect fee data from consultants and began publishing that information online at the end of April 2019.

Patients can now find information about local specialists offering the treatment they need, including professional fees and PHIN has also launched a new comparative tool to show how prices vary nationally by procedure. It shows the typical fees charged by consultants for initial consultations, treatment, and follow-up consultations for the most common elective procedures performed privately in the UK.

PHIN’s data confirms that for initial and follow-up consultations, and many procedures there is a premium to pay for treatment in London. Whereas cataract surgery, the most common private procedure in the UK, is most expensive in the South West, according to the data submitted to PHIN.

While progress is being made on clearer fees, and many providers now offer all-inclusive ‘package prices’ that bundle fees together, PHIN says more needs to be done for consumers.

An informal secret shopper exercise commissioned by PHIN illustrates the lack of clarity on fees consumers may face. It took several exchanges with hospitals and consultants’ medical secretaries to find out if the fees quoted were all inclusive or if there would be other charges. This was hardest for potential patients of consultants who didn’t offer a package price.

To help self-pay patients get a clearer picture of the likely fees they could face, PHIN has produced a guide and video along with a checklist of key things to ask when considering treatment options.

PHIN is also recommending the following to ensure greater transparency of fees for self-pay patients:

  • All 15,000+ consultants in the UK who offer private treatment need to publish their fees on PHIN’s website, in order to meet their current legal obligations. Consultants should already be giving patients comprehensive written quotes for fees prior to consultations, diagnostic tests, or treatment. This is required by the CMA Order and supports General Medical Council (GMC) Good Medical Practice guidelines.
  • All private hospitals publish their prices on PHIN’s website to ensure that patients get a complete, transparent and fair picture of costs when choosing a provider. PHIN already enables hospitals to publish prices for common procedures, and some hospitals have begun to publish their inclusive package prices.
  • The private healthcare sector do more work together to ensure that patients can get a guide price for the full expected price of treatment, and that prices, terms and conditions can be easily compared. These can then be published by PHIN. Despite improved transparency on price, patients may still struggle to compare terms and conditions between providers – for example, whether diagnostic, physio or follow-ups are included in a quoted price.

Matt James, Chief Executive of PHIN, said: “It has been very difficult for patients to find reliable information to compare fees before seeking treatment. We were asked to fix part of that problem by publishing medical fees, and we’ve taken an important step in publishing this information. Patients can now find the typical fees for more than 4,500 consultants, and it’s great that so many consultants are playing their part in improving price transparency.

“However, the private healthcare sector must do more to ensure that terms, conditions and price are constructed with the patient in mind. This is understandably very complex, and will take time to work through, but is the right thing to do for patients.

“Patients should know that they have legal rights to have fees set out in advance, so they can better compare their options before committing to a particular consultant.”

Adam Land, Senior Director of Remedies at the CMA, said: “Consultants’ fees need to be clear and accessible if people are to make informed choices. That is why the CMA appointed PHIN to collect and publish information on consultants’ pricing. The new information published today will help patients choose the right consultant for their needs.”