The growing interest in private healthcare – what do advisers need to know?

The growing interest in private healthcare – what do advisers need to know?
The growing interest in private healthcare – what do advisers need to know?

Karen Woodley


Head of Healthcare Distribution

In England alone, 7.3 million people are on an NHS treatment waiting list1, while 61% of people found it difficult to access NHS treatments in 2021-222. It’s not in doubt that the NHS fulfils an essential role in the UK, but numbers show that a fair proportion of consumers are considering private alternatives.

A recent YouGov survey showed that over 25% of British adults have considered using private healthcare in the last year3. For a third of those who did, it was their first time doing so.

For advisers, this growth in demand is hardly new news, but if 33% of private healthcare customers in the last year were using services for the very first time, it’s worth considering the specific needs of these customers.

Change is in the air, but people newly looking at health insurance will face their own set of barriers to accessing the cover they need. Whether overcoming challenges around value for money, discussing the right services for each generation, or just ease of access – reaching these new audiences effectively and sensitively is not always simple.

So, what can advisers do to bring the right options to the right customers, at the right time?

Weighing up value for money

A key aspect of The Exeter’s 2022 ‘Challenging Times: The health and financial fears of UK workers’ report examined these barriers to purchase. Unsurprisingly, cost is still a hugely important factor: our research found that one in five 45–64-year-olds save nothing in a typical month4.

This age demographic is the most common user of private healthcare services in 2022, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), and yet will need to balance a desire to use private alternatives – and the likely need for insurance to pay for the services – against the higher cost of living in 20235.

Supporting this, in our research the main reason why UK workers didn’t have an insurance product was affordability, with 53% of respondents agreeing. By comparison, only 18% said they didn’t see the need for insurance. The importance of highlighting affordable options with an increasingly receptive consumer base is clear.

To help customers in this situation judge whether they might take out insurance or use private healthcare for the first time, it can be useful to structure a conversation clearly around value for money, particularly with guided options that offer more flexibility, and the value-add benefits that come with many policies in 2023.

A health-conscious generation

One demographic shift has been more notable than the rest with our Health and Financial Fears report which indicated high interest from 18–24-year-olds in private healthcare and health insurance.

On average, when we conducted our research, 11% of UK workers had accessed private hospital treatments in the past two years – for 18–24-year-olds, this increased to 17%. This demographic was also more likely than the national average to have private health insurance in place (25% vs 18%).

These younger customers are likely to have quite different needs from the more typical, middle-aged client of a financial adviser.

For example, mental health conditions rank higher in importance with younger people. A YouGov survey from October 20213 showed that 18–24-year-olds consistently ranked common mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and eating disorders higher than those over 65. Indeed, our research found that 25% of this younger demographic had used private mental health support services in the past two years, compared to only 14% of 35–44-year-olds, again a more ‘typical’ age associated with taking out a health insurance policy.

Demonstrating the benefits of value-add services such as digital health solutions and access to counselling services can therefore be helpful for younger customers looking at health insurance, to tap into this growing market and better support younger people in the UK.

Ease of access for busy lives

For many potential customers, one major advantage of private health insurance is the speed of accessing appointments with specialists – something which may appeal even more to a younger demographic who could be worried about taking time off work.

Ease of access matters across the board, not just for appointments with specialists for treatments, but also when accessing primary care services as patients face longer waiting times to access their usual GP. In 2022, The Exeter’s health and wellbeing app, HealthWise, saw a 10% year-on-year increase in the number of remote GP appointments arranged.

Getting the right help easily, as well as quickly, is also important. Within the same year, our app also saw an 18% increase in the use of mental health support and a 13% increase in nutritional and lifestyle services. It’s clear that these services are in demand, but would busy workers and younger people access them to the same level if it weren’t so easy to quickly access support as they need?

Going back to the YouGov data on more customers looking at health insurance for the first time, it’s worthwhile considering the barriers that might prevent consumers or clients from accessing the cover they want.

Whether it’s common factors such as value for money or newer obstacles such as meeting younger customers’ needs, knowing what potential health insurance customers are concerned about is the first step to ensuring that the advantages and disadvantages of a policy can be weighed up accurately.

HealthWise services are provided by Square Health.

This article was featured in COVER magazine.

1. https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/pressures/nhs-backlog-data-analysis
2. https://stories.rostrum.agency/the-exeter-challenging-times-the-health-and-financial-fears-of-uk-workers/index.html
3. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/health/articles-reports/2023/04/17/one-eight-britons-turned-private-healthcare-last-1
4. https://stories.rostrum.agency/the-exeter-challenging-times-the-health-and-financial-fears-of-uk-workers/index.html
5. https://www.phin.org.uk/news/phin-private-market-update-march-2023