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‘My GP suggested it’: Britons explain why they went private for surgery

Private hospitals are caring for a record number of patients paying through their own savings or private medical insurance, according to figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network. 

Helen, a semi-retired frontline worker in south-east England, spent nearly £50,000 of her retirement savings on major spinal surgery to get her life back after two years of debilitating pain.

Helen, 56, began experiencing extreme lower back pain and leg pain in September 2021, triggered by a dog colliding with her leg in the park. Though it was not caused by the trigger, she was diagnosed by the NHS with spondylosis in November 2021, and then a pars defect (a condition affecting the lower spine), and offered scans and physiotherapy. She said six months of physiotherapy, beginning in early 2022, resulted in no improvement, and she was offered pain management and a steroid epidural, which she said also did not help.

“I rarely ventured out in these two years … due to the extreme pain I was in when sitting, standing or walking. Life effectively stopped in 2021,” she said. Desperate, she booked a consultation in May 2023 with a neurosurgeon and was told she needed an operation.

Helen asked whether it would be possible for the neurosurgeon, who also works within the NHS, to do it on the NHS rather than privately. A referral could be made, she was told – but the surgery was likely to involve a waiting time of 18 months to two years. “My husband and I discussed it, and he said: you’ve already had no life for the last two years, do you really want to wait another two?”

She had the spinal surgery in August 2023 and is now managing her pain with over-the-counter medication, rather than the stronger painkillers she was on before. It cost her a staggering £48,345.

The financial hit has been huge. “I was absolutely gutted to have to go private. This has knocked us both; we didn’t see us in our lives having to pay for something like this. We’ve managed our finances carefully and always saved where we can. But that lump sum [that we] can access when we retire … That lump sum has just gone now.”

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Source: The Guardian, 8 March 2024



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