The number of Brits paying for private medical treatment has risen by more than a third since Covid began, figures show.
Roughly 199,000 people forked out for ops such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery in 2019.
But last year the figure stood at 272,000, a rise of 36.7 per cent.
Record waits for routine NHS procedures have been blamed for the spiralling trend, with 7.33million now in the queue.
The £150billion-a-year service is creaking at the seams, with it battered by a staffing exodus, Covid-induced backlogs and a series of devastating strikes over the winter.
Around 272,000 Brits forked out the cash for ops such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery, up 36.7 per cent since 2019
Sommer Tebenham, from Hove, is just one who turned to private healthcare, taking out a £5,500 loan to fund a gallbladder op after being told she faced a wait of up to 12 months.
In a bid to combat the ever-growing waiting list, the NHS is expected to pay private companies to perform cancer checks.
Rishi Sunak will unveil the policy next month, it was claimed today.
Patients will also be able to book NHS-funded procedures in private facilities using the app under separate plans set to be confirmed tomorrow.
Data on the number of Brits deserting the ailing NHS is from the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), which shares information about performance and fees of private consultants and hospitals.
Sommer Tebenham, from Hove, is just one who turned to private healthcare, taking out a £5,500 loan to fund an op after being told she could face a wait of one year
It shows that just 199,000 procedures were private in 2019.
This dropped to around 145,000 in 2020, as the pandemic saw both the NHS and paid-for ops ground to a near halt as resources were redirected to treating those most unwell with the virus.
Private treatment numbers bounced back to approximately 262,000 in 2021 before spiking at 272,000 in 2022.
Cataract surgery was the most popular private procedure, followed by therapeutics, such as chemo. Hip and knee replacements and hernia repair surgery were other in-demand options.
This is despite some treatments costing more than £15,000. Some providers offer pay monthly deals.
Separate figures show 550,000 paid for private insurance in 2022 — 30,000 fewer than 2019, which experts say is driven by the cost of living crisis.
Providers say patients are increasingly desperate for treatment due to record NHS waits, according to the PHIN.
Latest NHS England data shows that the backlog is at the highest level since record began in August 2007, with one in eight people in the country waiting for treatment.
Ms Tebenham is one patient who has turned to private care.
She was diagnosed with gallstones in November 2022 and told that an operation to remove them should have been in April 2023 — but it could six to 12 months later.
The 28-year-old then borrowed £5,500, which she will be paying off for the next two years, to fund the procedure at a clinic in Luton.
She told the BBC: ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done because I’m no longer in pain.’
But Ms Tebenham is angry that she had to pay for the op herself, as she has been paying National Insurance — which, in part, funds the NHS — since she was 18.
‘If this was any other industry, if you pay for a service and you don’t receive it, you should get a refund,’ she told the broadcaster.
Dr Ian Gargan, chief executive of PHIN, said: ‘There is a whole combination of factors influencing this growth, with the long NHS waiting lists, and uncertainty around how long you’ll be waiting, certainly key among them.
‘We know that everyone loves and respects the NHS and its hard-working staff, but people are increasingly investigating healthcare alternatives.’
It comes as private companies are set to be paid to treat NHS patients.
This will see around 12 cancer diagnostic centres open in the South West, which has some of the longest waits. They will be operated by a single providers.
If the pilot is a success, similar schemes will be rolled out in other areas with the biggest backlogs, which are expected to be the East of England and South East.
The NHS already has dozens of diagnostic hubs across the country, which offer blood tests and scans.
Experts warned that cancer patients are dying while waiting for treatment, after NHS England data showed that two in five patients are not receiving within 62 days. They condemned ‘avoidable delays’ and warned that ‘live will be lost unnecessarily’.
Rishi Sunak is expected to announce the move next month as part of his plan to use the sector to speed up the NHS recovery, according to The Telegraph.
And on Thursday, the Prime Minister will set out how patients will be able to use the NHS app to choose where they are treated, including private hospitals.
Those in England will be able to select their preferred hospital when first referred, or later in the process if their is a shorter wait at another location.
Official figures showed 7.33million were left waiting for operations such as hip and knee replacements at the end of March. The backlog is up from 7.22million in February and marks the highest total since NHS records began in August 2007. Almost 360,000 patients have been forced to endure year-long waits for their routine treatment, often while in serious pain
NHS data on cancer waiting times however showed the 62-day cancer backlog has fallen for the first time since before the pandemic. But almost 6,000 patients did not start treatment within two months of an urgent referral from their GP. It means only 63 per cent of cancer patients in total were seen within the two month target. NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015
GPs will be monitored under the rules to ensure that they are informing patients of their ability to choose where they are treated.
One source told the newspaper: ‘This is about giving more power to the patient. Partly it’s about using the app for that, so patients aren’t reliant on their GP to tell them they don’t just have to go to the local hospital.
‘But it’s also about an expansion in the role of the private sector, starting with independent sector-led hubs.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer this week unveiled his plans to reform the NHS, which includes similar plans to offer patients more choice on where they are treated.
It comes as official figures show the number of nurses working in the UK has reached its highest level on record.
There are now 788,638 nurses, midwives and nursing associates registered to work, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
The regulator welcomed the rise of more than 30,000 in a year but issued a stark warning about the number leaving the profession early.
And data shows more than half of the new registrants trained overseas, leading the Royal College of Nursing to warn the NHS has become ‘over-reliant’ on unsustainable foreign recruitment.
The NMC pointed to ‘worrying findings’ from its leavers’ survey which indicate that many decided to leave the profession due to burnout or exhaustion, concerns about the quality of people’s care, workload or staffing levels.