“It seems that ‘going private’ is no longer just for the rich”: increasing interest in private healthcare spells trouble for the NHS

Analysis of online search data reveals a dramatic leap in interest for private healthcare and with the NHS floundering, with brands such as AXA, BUPA and Benenden reaping more SEO exposure.

Online search data has revealed a significant boost in interest for private healthcare amid ongoing turmoil at the NHS.

A surge in healthcare-related searches indicates that people are looking for alternatives to an NHS that is arguably in crisis. With ongoing strikes and almost 60% of patients waiting in excess of 18 weeks to start treatment, the UK’s public health system appears to be reeling.

Searches for “private healthcare” have jumped 45% year-on-year and “private health insurance” by 31% when comparing the first three months of 2023 to the same period in 2022.

Phrases including “private GP” rose by 50%, “private blood test” by 21% and “private hospitals” by 15% too, indicating a broad desire among a range of individuals with varying health issues to become better informed about alternative healthcare options to the public system.

Private healthcare providers reaping the rewards

Some of the UK’s biggest private healthcare providers appear to be reaping the benefits of growing demand. Over the same period, searches for Benenden Health (43%), AXA Health (34%) and Bupa (25%) all rose significantly. Interestingly, Vitality only saw a modest 0.13% increase in search.

The extent of the financial implications of these search insights is not yet clear, but they provide an indication that demand for private healthcare is increasing.

It’s worth noting that one in eight Britons have used private healthcare in the past 12 months and several healthcare providers have enjoyed revenue increases in recent years, namely AXA Health who reported a 16% uplift in 2022.

A two-tiered British health system?

Louis Venter, CEO at MediaVision, who carried out the analysis, said of the findings: “This growth in online searches tracks against the increases in turnover and the new product launches announced by many of the top UK private healthcare providers in the last couple of years. They’re keen to take advantage of a rapidly-growing market. And if the predictive nature of search is anything to go by, we are likely to see this consumer behaviour continue.

“It seems that ‘going private’ is no longer just for the rich – many people appear to be willing to dig into their savings to circumvent the continuing pressures and delays facing the NHS, particularly for surgeries like knee and hip replacements.

“With doctor and nurse strike action set to continue into the summer, this trend is unlikely to go away anytime soon. It may be that the UK is heading for a two-tier health system despite some politicians’ protestations to the contrary.”