New research shows NHS challenges driving demand for private healthcare, particularly among younger people

We’re publishing new research today that shows strong public support for the private healthcare sector, against a backdrop of continuing difficulty in accessing NHS care.  

The findings of our national polling show that nearly half of people who have used private healthcare say being unable to get an NHS appointment quickly enough was a factor in their decision.   

The new research shows evidence of a generational shift in attitudes towards private healthcare. Younger people (between 18 and 24 years of age) are, surprisingly, the most likely to have actually used the private sector – 4 in 10 have already done so.  

Nearly three quarters of people under 34 would consider using private healthcare if they needed it. They’re also more generally positive about it, and the most likely group to have accessed private GP services particularly.    

David Furness, director of policy and delivery at IHPN said: “It will probably surprise a lot of people that the age group with the greatest number of private health care users is 18-24 year olds. 4 in 10 have used private healthcare – largely we believe for GP appointments, scans and diagnostics.  

“It’s a very interesting finding, showing young people seem to have a very pragmatic view when it comes to accessing the healthcare they need, and there is evidence of clear generational shifts in attitudes and behaviours.  

“Younger people are seemingly more prepared to take immediate steps. Nearly three quarters of people under 34 say they’d consider using private healthcare – that’s a big group.” 

Recent statistics have shown continued growth in demand for private healthcare, with recent figures showing record levels of patients going private for a whole range of operations and procedures.  

Furness added that the overall positivity towards the sector was encouraging to see. “I think sometimes there has been a perception that people ‘don’t like’ private healthcare. In fact the majority of people are positive about it, especially those who’ve actually used it, and it’s only a minority (11%) who have negative views.”    

The research shows that while affordability is the biggest barrier to people accessing the system, there is also a lack of awareness and absence of information evident. There could be an opportunity to empower patients by giving them much better information about the costs of private healthcare and how to navigate the system. 

Furness continues: “We recognise that not everyone will be able to afford private healthcare but we also found that people don’t always have a good idea about what it costs. However, it is positive to see that over 8 in 10 people (82%) who have paid themselves say they thought it was definitely, or probably worth the money.  

“That’s a reflection of the excellent quality of service and quality of care which the private sector provides, but also of the fact that people place huge value on their health and wellbeing, and ultimately, it’s a priority over other things.” 

There was a fairly even split between those who had paid for their private care themselves and who had used insurance. Self pay was more popular as a solution with younger people, and those from lower social grades were also more likely to self-pay.    

Furness added: “I think this is further evidence that employers should be thinking very closely about how they support their workers. We know that economic inactivity levels due to sickness are very high, and at the same time, research shows just how valuable employees think private insurance is. There is a clear role that employers could play here in making it easier for people to access the healthcare they need.” 

Vincent Buscemi, Head of Independent Health and Care at Bevan Brittan, who supported the project, said: “It is fascinating to see the results of this research.  
“It has provided a number of useful insights and confirmed a number of points we probably already knew about trends in usage and opinion across the health and care system.  
“It has however, highlighted some very interesting newer developments – particularly around younger people’s usage of the private sector and their drivers for doing so.  The findings will no doubt stimulate further thought and debate in the sector. We are delighted to have been involved and look forward to continuing to support the ongoing discussions.” 


We worked with Public First to carry out both quantitative and qualitative public opinion research. Public First is a member of the BPC and abides by its rules. 

We surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,003 people who were asked a range of questions about private healthcare (poll conducted 20-27 January 2023).  

We did a follow-up survey of 509 respondents who said they were open to using private healthcare, to bring us to a total of 1,771 responses who had this view. This allowed us to delve deeper into the issues. The project also involved three focus groups: 

  • People in the North of England who were open to using private healthcare 
  • People in London and the South East who were open to using private 
  • People from all across England who had previously used private healthcare