Top-up change leads to calls for NHS funding overhaul

The Government’s softening of attitude on health top-ups shows new sources of funding for the NHS need to be looked at says Mike Izzard, chairman of the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries.

Health secretary Alan Johnson’s adoption of all 14 of cancer tzar Professor Mike Richards’ may mark the first step towards a more prominent role for private health solutions says Izzard.

Izzard says the policy change is sure to prompt at least three providers to target the market, and cautions that those who do not develop products to take advantage of the clarification of the position of health top-ups will be left behind. He added that providers such as WPA who are already active in the space will see their market grow.

The British Medical Association and Bupa both added their voices to calls for a review of the long-term sustainability of NHS funding, while welcoming the proposals put forward by Richards.

Izzard says: “This is welcome and it gives my members an opportunity to market products that will capture this sector. But in the longer term the Government has got to face up to the fact that the NHS’s challenge is an ever increasing one. This should be the start of a broader discussion about healthcare funding in the UK.”

Charlie McEwan, director of communications at WPA says: “This is of course great news and endorses what we have already been doing. But there is still a lot of detail to wade through to see how it will all work.”

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, says: “It was morally wrong that people who self-funded part of their treatment were denied their right to free NHS care and I have great sympathy for the patients and their families who find themselves facing these terrible dilemmas.
“In reality, however, this whole debate is part of a much wider one about the future of healthcare provision in England. As new, expensive drugs become available, and the population ages, it is increasingly important that society recognises that there are very real limits to what the NHS can and cannot do. The public, politicians and the medical profession must be fully involved in these discussions.”

Dr. Natalie-Jane Macdonald, managing director of Bupa UK Health Insurance, says: “Welcome as these measures are, Bupa believes that ‘top ups’ are just one instrument amongst a number that will be required to sustain and improve UK health financing for all over the coming decade. Our own work with NERA and Frontier Economics has suggested that by 2015 the NHS is likely to face a financing gap in the order of £11bn.”