Private healthcare providers expect growth in all key markets in coming year as demand for care soars

Independent healthcare providers are anticipating strong growth in both their NHS and private pay markets in the coming year according to a new survey conducted by the sector’s industry body.

Findings from the Independent Healthcare Providers Network’s (IHPN) “Industry Barometer 2022” – which looks at how senior independent healthcare leaders feel about the key issues relating to their business – show that almost 9 in 10 providers (88%) are “positive” or “very positive” about the private self-pay market, with over half (55%) also feeling “positively” or “very positively” about the market for insured patients.

This reflects the growing number of people seeking private treatment in the last year, with polling commissioned by IHPN earlier this year showing almost half of people (48%) would consider paying privately for care if they needed treatment in the next 12 months. The latest data from the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) also shows that the number of patients self-paying for private acute care has increased by over one third since pre-pandemic, with a 193% rise in self pay for hip replacements, and a 56% rise for cataracts.

While the sector is more cautious about the current market for NHS funded services – with 6 in 10 providers (59%) saying the “do not feel part” of their local NHS system – there remains significant enthusiasm from the sector to provide greater support to the NHS and to help it tackle the growing pressure it faces. Indeed, almost half of providers (47%) see their NHS market as the biggest area of growth in the coming year.

Reflecting wider workforce shortages in the NHS and across the globe, independent providers also cited staffing pressures as a key concern, with 8 in 10 providers citing this as their biggest challenge. In response, independent healthcare providers are committed to taking action to bolster their workforce, with almost 3/4 (73%) aiming to “grow their own” staff in the coming year through the increased use of apprenticeships, training and development, and two thirds (65%) prioritizing employee support and wellbeing. In additional, almost all providers (96%) are expecting to increase staff training in the coming year to aid recruitment and retention.

This year’s survey also highlights the additional pressures the sector is facing – along with businesses all over the country – around the current cost of living crisis. Almost two thirds (63%) of providers cite inflationary pressures as a key challenge for their business. More than half of respondents (54%) feel this impact most heavily in terms of pressure on wages, followed by prices for services not keeping up with inflation (42%). Encouragingly, no respondents reported that these cost pressures were resulting in declining consumer confidence.

Following the launch of last year’s IHPN’s industry-wide commitment to achieve net zero by 2035, 7 in 10 providers also report being “confident” or “reasonably confident” that their organisation will meet this ambitious target. In the coming year, IHPN will continue to provide support and subject matter expertise to all providers including the 30% who are either not sure or not very confident to help them to achieve their organisational ambitions.

David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said:

“This year’s Industry Barometer shows the real sense of optimism within the independent healthcare sector, with demand for the high-quality services it provides expected to rise significantly in the coming year – particularly amongst private patients.

“While the sector remains fully committed to playing its role in the wider NHS recovery – and see this market as a key prospect for growth – providers are reporting real concerns around the establishment of NHS Integrated Care Systems (ICS), which independent providers are saying that they feel excluded from despite the sector playing a key role in frontline NHS service delivery.

“Given the scale of the challenge in tackling the current backlog of NHS care, it’s vital that an “all shoulders to the wheel” approach is taken, with a key role set out for independent healthcare providers in every NHS ICS. We’re therefore urging the NHS to “help us, help you” and ensure the sector can play its full part in improving patient access to care in the coming months and years.”

Mr. Andrew Vaux, Head of Independent Health and Social Care, Practicus, said:

“As a partner, Practicus is delighted to be supporting IHPN’s Industry Barometer for the third consecutive year. The 2022 survey responses yield valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities confronting the members. As the voice of the industry, IHPN and the Barometer provide an ideal opportunity to better understand industry concerns and needs. The intelligence gained can help shape business planning including change management, business and digital transformation, areas where Practicus is able to help.”