Six of the largest private hospital and health insurance companies in the UK have teamed up to help promote the benefits of private healthcare. The firms have launched a GBP1bn (US$1.77bn) national press campaign highlighting the contribution that the private health sector can make to the nation.
In 2004, an estimated 7.6mn people in the UK were covered by private health schemes, with a total of GBP2.64bn (US$4.66bn) paid out in benefits. A further GBP350mn (US$618.06mn) was spent by patients out of their own pockets for treatment at private hospitals. The advertising campaign claims that this helps reduce the burden on the UK's healthcare provider, the National Health Service (NHS).
However, recent reports suggest that there has only been a slight growth in the private health insurance market in recent years and that as the NHS reduces hospital waiting lists the private sector will come under growing pressure. At the same time, the lines between private and public healthcare are becoming increasingly blurred.
Under government initiatives, the NHS contracts out some medical care services, including surgery, to private health companies. Such moves have been bitterly opposed by healthcare unions, which fear the growing privatisation of the health service.