Bupa is 'taking the Mickey' angry patients tell inquiry

Insurer comes under attack for its premium costs and lack of care during probe into private health

Bupa patients have launched a series of astonishing attacks on the medical insurer during a Competition Commission probe into the £5bn private healthcare industry.

The investigation is looking into whether the apparantly overwhelming dominance of just five private-sector hospital operators – General Healthcare Group, Nuffield Health Hospitals, Ramsay Health Care UK, Spire Healthcare and HCA – distorts competition.

Bupa has supported the inquiry, as it believes the cost of private healthcare has been soaring because of a lack of competition, meaning its customers are tempted to switch to the NHS. However, this has not stopped Bupa itself from being the target of withering criticisms from policyholders who have submitted evidence to the investigation.

The hard-hitting attacks received by the commission included: "Bupa is busy moving the goalposts to avoid honouring their terms"; that the company's practices effectively deny "an option of choice of medical consultant"; and that "Bupa now has a policy of only using surgeons who will operate at the least cost to themselves".

One Bupa customer claimed that the firm, which employs 52,000 people around the world, refused to pay the full fee for a preferred, accredited consultant or surgeon for a hip replacement. The critic alleged: "On investigation I find that Bupa although increasing my subscription year on year have found it necessary to reduce the fee paid to consultants which was set in 1993. This therefore requires me to make up the difference adding at least 5 per cent to my subscription."

Another policyholder complained about the lack of assistance given to them following a foot operation. The complaint read: "I am… pleased to say that the infection has gone and my foot is healing really well. However, I am really annoyed and upset with Bupa and would like to formally complain about their attitude to my operation and aftercare treatment."

The commission launched its investigation last year and these are just the latest complaints against Bupa in the evidence from customers. Another policyholder last July wrote: "This year, without any explanation, my monthly premium has jumped 20 per cent from £185 to £225.31. How can this be anything other than 'taking the Mickey'."

In Bupa's annual results presentation for 2012, in which it announced £8.4bn of worldwide revenue, its chief executive Stuart Fletcher admitted that changes the company was making to tackle claims inflation and fees in the UK were "not always popular". However, he insisted that they were necessary so that British customers could get affordable, high-quality private healthcare.

On the inquiry, Mr Fletcher said: "There are no easy solutions, but a lack of competition between hospitals and information on quality of care is pushing up the cost of insurance premiums, which continue to rise at unsustainable levels putting the future of the private healthcare sector at risk."

Bupa told The Independent on Sunday that a recent survey, it commissioned, found that 87 per cent of its members expected the company to pursue value for money on their behalf.

Dr Damian Marmion, the managing director of Bupa Health Funding, said: "There is a low level of complaints about health insurance, compared to other types of insurance. In the second half of 2012, less than 0.2 per cent of Bupa's 2.3 million customers complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

"We are working hard to tackle hospital and consultant costs and we are calling on the Competition Commission to drive changes in the provision of private healthcare to deliver better value for our health insurance customers."

Bupa was not the only insurer criticised in the evidence to the Commission. An Aviva customer was angry about premium increases and a Pru Health policyholder complained that the costs of a routine prostate operation were allegedly not properly outlined to him.

The inquiry, which is chaired by former National Power finance director Roger Witcomb, is due to publish its initial findings in June.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible